By 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.