For immediate neighbors of the Indian casino being built on the edge of Rohnert Park, worries about the project's impacts have been underlined by years of dread that it will drain their wells dry.
Though the Federated Indians of Graton Rancheria reduced the scale of its project, and as a result slashed the estimated amount of water it would use — from 106 million gallons a year to 36 million — fears persist.
"I'm shaking in my boots," said Dennis Carrera, a Millbrae Avenue resident who lives about a mile northwest of the casino site, where two wells are to be drilled to 600 feet. That's deeper than nearly all the 200 wells within a two-mile radius of the casino, according to environmental reports prepared for the project.
In Sacramento last summer, at hearings where legislators reviewed the tribe's proposed gambling compact with the state, some residents said they feared for their livelihoods.
"If they go dry, we have to leave; we have nowhere to live," said Selena Polston, who lives on her organic farm about 1? miles from the fast-rising casino.
Now, Carrera and Polston are among those who have enrolled in a program the federal government required the tribe to set up to monitor well levels within the two-mile radius. Under the program, the tribe will compensate property owners whose wells are affected by the casino, and an adjoining hotel planned for a later date.
"If there are any impacts, this will help the property owner justify any claims," said Jay Jasperse, chief engineer for the Sonoma County Water Agency.
On Friday, two staff members of the Sotoyome Resource Conservation District, which the tribe has hired to run the testing aspect of the program, used a sonic meter and an electronic tape measure fitted with a sensor to check the water level in Carrera's well.
Kevin Cullinen, a Sotoyome project cordinator, told Carrera and another neighbor, Pat Fabbiani, that the program would run for up to three years after the casino starts pumping its well. That is expected to happen near the end of the year when the casino is projected to open its doors.
"I think it's a good thing but I don't think it's going to help us," said Fabbiani, whose initial well test is next week. She said the hotel is her real concern because it will create the heaviest water demand. The monitoring program should be extended to take into full account its impact on surrounding wells, she said.
"We want five to 10 years of monitoring," Fabbiani said.
She and Carrera are among more than 70 people to have so far enrolled in the program.
"Generally, the feedback has been very positive," said Kara Heckert, executive director of the Sotoyome district, a non-regulatory public agency that works with private landowners on water and conservation issues.
"I am very pleased about it," said Ken Yonts, who lives on Millbrae Avenue resident about a mile from the casino.
"I think if it didn't happen I would probably have to have gone and paid for it," he said, "because I think it's critical to have a baseline, because later if something goes wrong, what would you do?"
The tribe is paying the Sotoyome district $126,035 to manage the program.