Water well owners in Sonoma County may get billed for their annual water usage under a proposed water-conservation plan up for discussion next week at a community meeting in Santa Rosa.
The Santa Rosa Plain Groundwater Sustainability Agency (GSA) is hosting the Jan. 30 meeting to hear feedback on its proposed “groundwater sustainability fee,” which would provide funding to support the new agency.
“If you get your water from a groundwater well located in the Santa Rosa Plain, the proposed groundwater sustainability fee could affect you,” said the GSA’s website announcing the meeting. The Santa Rosa Plain generally includes the valley floor stretching from Cotati to Windsor and from Sonoma Mountain to Sebastopol and includes the Laguna de Santa Rosa and Mark West Creek watersheds.
The new fees, if approved, would appear on well-owners property tax bills starting this fall (2019), said GSA spokesperson Ann DuBay.
Rural residents who rely solely on a well for their water could pay between $8 to $13 annually per acre-foot of water, according to the
GSA formed two years ago to sustain the quality and quantity of groundwater in the Santa Rosa Plain. An acre-foot of water is equivalent to 325,851 gallons. Proposed fees could range from $1 to $3 annually for well owners with small irrigation wells (but whose main water supply is from a city) and from $16 to $26 per acre-foot for larger pumpers like cities, towns, mutual water companies, agriculture and golf courses.
As a result of the state’s new push for water conservation awareness, California’s Sustainable Groundwater Management Act (SGMA) was passed into California law in fall 2014. The Act requires state-designated “medium” and “high priority” groundwater basins to form a GSA and develop a groundwater sustainability plan (GSP). In compliance with SGMA, the Santa Rosa Plain GSA was created in June 2017.
“The GSA Board has worked for more than a year to develop an equitable, low-impact solution that will allow us to fund this state-mandated agency,” said GSA Board Chair Lynda Hopkins, who also represents western Sonoma County’s 5th District on the Sonoma County Board of Supervisors. “The meeting is an opportunity for community members to learn about the proposed fee and to share their thoughts.”
A proposed well registration program is also on the agenda at the Jan. 30 meeting scheduled from 6 to 8 p.m. in the Finley Community Center, 2060 West College Ave, Santa Rosa.
It’s unclear so far how many well owners in the Santa Rosa basin would be affected, said DuBay. “We don’t really have a list of every single well in the basin,” said DuBay. “Thee are a lot of wells that were put in prior to current permitting rules,” said DuBay. “There are a lot of old wells.”
Current estimates indicate there are approximately 6,000 wells in the Santa Rosa groundwater plain, said Dubay.
Feedback on the groundwater program so far has focused on the need for fairness and simplicity in the governing process, said DuBay. After the most recent California drought, “People get what happened” with water shortages and depleted groundwater supplies following the lowest rainfall recorded in county history in 2013. The drought “raised awareness that groundwater isn’t infinite; there’s a limit to how much we can use,” said DuBay. “People understand that. They understand the need for management.”
If the GSA does not impose fees, and as a result cannot complete and implement the GSP, the state could intervene and impose fees that would range from $100 annually for residential well owners to $300 (base fee) plus $40 per acre foot of groundwater use for agriculture, cities, mutual water systems, golf courses and commercial users, said DuBay.
Leading up to next week’s meeting, “The GSA board and advisory committee has discussed fee options in 12 public meetings. We held a community workshop to solicit creative ideas, and we’ve provided monthly updates to our large email list,” said Santa Rosa Plain GSA vice-chairman Tom Schwedhelm. “We hope people can attend the January 30 meeting to learn more details.”
For more information about the Santa Rosa Plain GSA, go to www.santarosaplaingroundwater.org.