Sonoma county well house

Sonoma county well house

A series of public meetings begin this week to update well owners and others about the formation of three new agencies that will implement California’s new groundwater law in Sonoma County.

The meetings will take place in Sonoma County’s three groundwater basins immediately affected by California’s Sustainable Groundwater Management Act (SGMA): Santa Rosa Plain, Sonoma Valley and Petaluma Valley.

The first meeting is this Thursday, March 23 in Petaluma, from 6 to 8 p.m. at the Petaluma Community Center on McDowell Boulevard. The second meeting will be held next Monday, March 27 from 6 to 8 p.m. in Sonoma and the final meeting is on April 3 from 6 to 8 p.m. in Santa Rosa at the Santa Rosa Utilities Field Office on Stony Point Road.

The meetings will include a brief overview of Sustainable Groundwater Management Act (SGMA) requirements and a description of the recommended governance structure of the proposed new Groundwater Sustainability Agencies (GSAs).

The first requirement of the act is creation of GSAs, which are regulatory bodies responsible for developing and implementing plans to manage groundwater. To bring an area’s groundwater into sustainability, the GSAs have the ability to regulate groundwater use and to levy fees on users.

Staff representatives from the entities that are eligible to serve as GSAs have been working since 2015 on recommendations to their governing bodies regarding these new agencies.

“The community meetings will provide an opportunity for the GSA-eligible entity staff to describe the recommendations for GSA formation, and for people to ask questions,” said Sonoma County Water Agency spokeswoman Ann DuBay.

In April and May, the governing boards of the GSA-eligible entities, including the city of Sebastopol, will be making final governance decisions. Public hearings on the creation of the GSAs will be held in each basin in May or June.

The deadline for forming GSAs is June 30, 2017. If local agencies fail to create GSAs, the state will step in to manage groundwater in the three basins.

The SGMA, which was passed into California law in fall 2014, requires that state-designated medium and high-priority basins form GSAs and develop groundwater sustainability plans. Sonoma County has three medium-priority basins: Petaluma Valley, Santa Rosa Plain and Sonoma Valley; these basins have to comply with SGMA.

The Sonoma Valley has a voluntary groundwater management plan and Basin Advisory Panel and is in its ninth year of plan implementation. The Santa Rosa Plain adopted a voluntary groundwater management plan in 2014, has a Basin Advisory Panel, and is in the initial stages of implementing that plan. These existing groundwater management plans will remain in effect until new groundwater sustainability plans are developed. The Petaluma Valley has embarked on a study with the U.S. Geological Service to understand its basin. These programs will be incorporated as much as possible when developing the Groundwater Sustainability Plan.

The GSA-eligible entities have been meeting since 2015 to understand Sustainable Groundwater Management Act requirements and explore options for GSA formation. Basin advisory panels (in Sonoma Valley and Santa Rosa Plain) have provided input on contacting stakeholders and shared ideas on how eligible entities can work together. Public workshops were held in fall 2015 and summer 2016.  Staff recommendations on GSA formation will be shared at the community meetings.

A website, www.sonomacountygroundwater.org includes information on SGMA and a place to sign up for more information.

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