Santa Rosa switches groundwater consultants

Santa Rosa officials have picked a new consulting firm to lead the development of an emergency water supply for the city following a contract dispute with the Sebastopol firm that managed the effort for years.

A city selection panel is recommending West Yost Associates of Davis to head up the next phase of plans to significantly increase the city's groundwater supply. The choice still needs to be affirmed by the Board of Public Utilities next month.

The project aims to ensure the city has a backup water supply in the event access to Russian River water is cut off, such as in an earthquake or severe drought. The city has spent more than a decade and an estimated $10 million studying the aquifer for possible well sites but has yet to build any new production wells.

The city last fall held up payments to its previous contractor, environmental consulting firm ECON, after it realized that ECON's owner, Andrew Rodgers, is not a licensed geologist, hydrologist or engineer.

Rodgers managed the drilling and analysis of test wells in various locations around the city from 2008 until last year. He didn't need to be personally licensed because he hired licensed engineers to do the majority of the work, he said.

Despite the dispute, which is ongoing, ECON will still have a role in the next phase of the project, said Andrew Allen, the city's supervising engineer on the program.

ECON is one of several firms West Yost is tapping to help it complete the project, Allen said. West Yost and ECON both worked closely with the city on its groundwater master plan.

ECON has a database that might prove useful in identifying areas to site wells, Allen said.

However, because of the licensing issues, the city "cannot use them for geologic services or engineering services," he said.

"We certainly have done our due diligence to determine what type of work they can do on the project," Allen said, describing ECON's future role as "focused."

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