WatchSonoma Watch

GUEST OPINION: Time to speak out about new plan to manage ground water

Shirlee Zane

Shirlee Zane represents the 3rd district on the Sonoma County Board of Supervisors which also serves as the board of directors of the Sonoma County Water Agency.

March came in like a lion and went out like a lamb, and the recent showers in April will bring flowers in May. But the fact that Sonoma County is enjoying an almanac-perfect spring that followed a water-rich winter shouldn’t let us forget that we live in a Mediterranean climate.

Mild winters and long dry summers are the norm, not the exception. Individually, we need to continue to replace lawns with drought-tolerant plants, create rain catchment systems and install water-saving faucets, toilets and appliances.

Government, too, needs to continue to prepare for the years ahead when climate change is likely to cause greater fluctuations in rainfall, and population growth will place increasing demands on water supply.

One area in which the community has been particularly vulnerable is ground water. Sonoma County has more than 40,000 permitted wells, many in the Santa Rosa Plain, which stretches from Windsor to Cotati and from Sonoma Mountain to the hills near Sebastopol.

Farmers and rural families rely on wells to irrigate crops and to use for drinking water. Cities rely on wells to supplement the water they purchase from the Sonoma County Water Agency. Until recently, we’ve had little understanding of this resource including how much water is stored in underground aquifers, how water travels underground in different areas of the Santa Rosa Plain and how long it takes to recharge aquifers.

To help close this information gap, several years ago the Water Agency, the county, the cities of Santa Rosa, Rohnert Park, Cotati, Sebastopol and Windsor and Cal-American Water Co. contracted with the U.S. Geological Survey to study ground water in the plain using new, sophisticated technology. The study is nearly complete and preliminary findings show:

– There have been long-term declines in ground water levels in some areas of the basin. We will need to keep a careful eye on these areas and look for opportunities to recharge the basin (see below) to prevent further declines.

– When pumps are turned off, some aquifers in the basin recharge relatively quickly. This knowledge could help us better plan for and balance the use of surface water and ground water. For example, this summer, cities and water districts could let their wells rest and use more water from Lake Sonoma and Lake Mendocino, which are brimful.

The information generated by the USGS study will enhance our technical knowledge of the basin, but it will require broad-based community understanding and support to make the changes necessary to ensure that ground water will be available for future generations.

To this end, the board of directors of the Water Agency directed staff last year to create a steering committee to conduct outreach and share information on ground water with the community. This diverse committee includes representatives from environmental, agricultural, business, rural residential and technical groups.

After becoming educated on the science of and issues surrounding ground water, the steering committee briefed 20 organizations and held three public workshops attended by nearly 200 people. Based on what it heard, the committee is now recommending that stakeholders collaboratively develop a non-regulatory, voluntary ground water management plan for the Santa Rosa Plain basin. This plan could provide a path forward for ground water users, emphasizing local control of its water resources and helping to ensure that the Santa Rosa Plain doesn’t become an “adjudicated basin” where out-of-area regulators control this precious resource.

The Water Agency has secured $250,000 from the California Department of Water Resources to assist in funding the locally developed management plan.

On May 3, at 9:30 a.m., Water Agency directors will receive a briefing on this plan and determine whether to move forward. Now is the time to share your thoughts.

16 Responses to “GUEST OPINION: Time to speak out about new plan to manage ground water”

  1. Joe says:

    “Whiskey is for drinking, Water is for fighten”
    Roy Rodgers

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  2. Really? Illegal immigrants are now being held responsible for our irresponsible use of water resources?? C’mon. Yer stretchin’ it my brotha.

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  3. Really Big Fish says:

    To everyone:

    Stop illegal immigration and limit legal immigration! Water problem( and other problems) solved.

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  4. John Hudson says:

    Developers use their money to influence local governments to force existing residents to provide sewer and water infrastructure for them. Developers take water from existing residents. (That’s what this article is really about.) Developers profit from clogging our freeways, destroying open space, paving over farmlands, placing additional demands on state universities, and generally reducing our quality of life.

    Developers pay no public facilities fees (also called impact fees) for the impact of their profit making activities on services provided by the state. In 2006, Developers, behind a front organization calling itself “Let’s Re-build California” used their political influence to get Schwarzenegger to push a bond issue that borrowed $80 billion for new water,highway, and other projects they created a need for. No wonder the state is broke!

    At the local level, developers pay inadequate amounts for public facilities fees. They pay nothing until a building permit is issued. Before a building permit can be issued their infrastructure must be in place. This leaves existing residents holding the bag to finance the construction of the infrastructure for developers. that’s why our sewer and water rates go up whenever development is planned.

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  5. FedUp says:

    @Greg Karraker – It’s simple, if oxymoronic. The Progressives have become anti-progress. Gone are the days when progressive values were directed at improving the quality of life for the middle class. Against all experience, they’ve come to the conclusion that progress is the enemy, that our children must accept a lower standard of living,and that the meaning of justice is equal misery for all. They’ve abandoned the notion that the path to progress is a fair share of an ever increasing pie and instead have turned their attention to taking from those who baked it and giving to those who didn’t.

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  6. Greg Karraker says:

    There is an anti-developer undertone here that I find curious. Progressives support shelters for the homeless and Habitat For Humanity, as do I. So we all agree that having a roof, surrounded by protective walls, over human heads, is a good thing.

    Isn’t that what developers build? But for some reason, on these threads, developers are treated with the same contempt reserved for crack dealers or Tea Party members.

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  7. Pipe dreamer says:

    California is the only state left that has virtually no regulations or controls over the use of our precious groundwater. You can’t pollute it and your neighbors’ well water, but you can generally take as much as your pumps will produce, unless you drain the connected streams, rivers or lakes.

    California’s Constitution limits pumping and diversions from surface water (streams, rivers and lakes) to ‘reasonable and beneficial use.’ That includes drinking water, crops, fish and wildlife, and recreational uses. Unfortunately, our state’s regulatory framework was based on 1848 misunderstandings of water: they believed that surface and groundwater were not connected. Big mistake.

    In the Midwest, the immense Ogallala aquifer has been drawn down hundreds of feet, leaving many small towns and farms without water. That is now happening in California groundwater basins as well. It’s a valuable resource with no one paying attention to the collective well being of us all.

    The county’s proposal is a start: find out what’s here, and develop practices and oversight to prevent destroying this water wealth.

    Unfortunately, unless there is monitoring of groundwater levels and pollution, and a way to keep the groundwater from being overpumped, we’ll get screwed in the end by indifferent, ignorant or greedy well owners, including the SCWA’s massive pumps.

    When the underground aquifer is drained, the ground usually collapses of its own weight, and will never again be filled with water pumped into it. It’s far cheaper to do this right, now, than to try to repair the mess later.

    Should we save water for more developers? I”m not happy with that.

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  8. John Hudson says:

    This is transparently a plan to make water available for developers by taking it away from existing residents.Why is Zane talking about replacing lawns with drought resistant landscaping? About 15 years ago the City of Rohnert Park sent out an “annual report” full of happy talk. One picture had a caption that said “Well kept lawns are the pride of the residents”. There was plenty of water for lawns then. There is the same amount of water now. What has changed is that developers have placed so much new demand on the water supply that they cannot continue to build more houses unless they take water away from us.

    We need to recognize that we have a conflict of interest with developers and that almost all local politicians, such as Zane, are on the side of developers. After all, Zane is a member of the Sonoma County Alliance. The motto of the Sonoma County Alliance is “A healthy environment depends on a healthy economy”. You know that a politician who embraces that mindless slogan is not a true environmentalist.

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  9. Steele says:

    Having Zane involved with this is about a sensible as having a tooth pulled by the tooth fairy.

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  10. Greg Karraker says:

    I welcome objective studies about the volume of local aquifers, but it’s all too easy to see where this is headed. Just like the climate change prediction which Ms. Zane takes as absolute science rather than interesting theory, these studies will lead to a politically-motivated conclusion, which will point to a crisis, which will culminate in more government control over private matters.

    Ms. Zane may choose a desert landscape for her lawn, and thimble-sized toilets for her residence, but she may not impose that choice on me.

    Further, I have seen the results of water rights disputes in New Mexico, where individual property owners are told by the state how much of their own water they can use. Worse, when visiting New Mexico, I was told that Native American tribes and the state government have been locked in a 30-year legal battle over water rights, with the federal government paying the attorney’s fees on both sides.

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  11. John Hudson says:

    Bear: I would suggest that you Google riparian water rights. A riparian water right is the right on the owner of land abutting a lake or stream or through which a stream flows to take an indefinite amount of water for “beneficial use on his land. Unlike groundwater, riparian water is usufructuary. It is for the use of the riparian owner, but is not owned by him. The right to use riparian water extends only to the parcel that abuts the stream. Agricultural use is considered a beneficial use. Therefore, the landowners who actually own parcels abutting the Russian River have a constitutionally protected right to take an indefinite amount water from the river for agricultural purposes. The only time when the rights can be reduced is when there is a drought, in which case all persons who own land abutting the water source must share in the shortage.

    On the other hand, the rights of a water agency, such as the Sonoma County Water Agency, are appropriative. The first party to claim excess water and put it to beneficial use has the right to divert it to land not abutting the water source. Generally, riparian owners have priority over appropriative users.

    In other words. the growers you claim are “stealing” the water have every legal right to it.

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  12. WoolseyMammoth says:

    This is ANOTHER taxpayer funded lie by Water Agency officials to further control peoples lives; if tax payers could see inside the water agency, they would shudder at the corruption! As a mechanic for 27 years, one has NEVER seen such self infatuation by ethically challenged individuals.

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  13. Jon Bixler says:

    Bear… couldn’t agree more! To deny the relationship between ground and surface water is patently ignorant.

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  14. bear says:

    The ONLY way Sonoma County will meet future water needs is by integrated use of surface and groundwater.

    Groundwater means your well.

    Surface water means the Russian River, including the Mendocino and Dry
    Creek dams and reservoirs.

    “Greed” includes the vineyard owners who are either stealing from the River or depleting groundwater supplies.

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  15. Hud Johnson says:

    Developers cannot own land unless there is a vote of the people and have no rights whatsoever until and unless all the people vote on giving them some limited land rights.

    If we start giving developers land ownership rights, they might be entitled to the beneficial use of their land thereby depriving us real people who have no ownership interest at all in someone else’s land of telling them what restrictions we can put on them.

    The people have the right to lord it over on developers. This is the moral high ground and the American way. It makes no difference if I hate America. If you want to develop your land, then I’ll use every freedom America offers to make it as difficult as possible.

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  16. John Hudson says:

    California Civil Code section 659 defines “land” as follows: “Land is the material of the earth, whatever may be the ingredients of which it is composed, whether soil, rock or other substance, and includes free or unoccupied space for an indefinite distance upward as well as downwards, subject to limitations upon which use of the airspace imposed, and rights in the use of the airspace granted, by law.”

    Unlike surface water, which is government by the law of riparian rights, ground water falls within the definition of “land” and actually is owned by the overlying landowner. Any limitations on pumping of water beneath private property constitutes a “taking” of that property requiring compensation under the Fifth and Fourteenth Amendments to the United States Constitution because the owner is completely denied use of his property that actually exists.

    Compare this to a subdivision being proposed by a developers. A subdivision being proposed by a developer does not actually exist and therefore cannot be property.

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