Key public meetings set for governing groundwater in Sonoma County
Residents who want to influence or at least understand how Sonoma County’s groundwater will be managed going forward are invited to participate in public hearings next month that will help shape new agencies governing aquifers.
Three new groundwater sustainability agencies are being formed under the 2014 state law meant to ensure that California’s groundwater basins are protected from depletion in an era of climate change and weather extremes.
The new law calls for monitoring, managing and, where necessary, regulating pumping from groundwater basins, which currently supply more than a third of the state’s water needs, even in a rainy year.
The state’s prolonged drought and overpumping of aquifers, especially in the Central Valley, fueled the new layer of oversight.
Previously, California was the only western state to have no regulation of groundwater.
“It never really becomes real to people until it’s right in front of their face,” Sonoma County Supervisor James Gore said of rules now governing groundwater.
Sonoma County is comparatively water-rich in surface and groundwater supplies, though some areas of Rohnert Park and the Sonoma Valley have come under past scrutiny for overuse.
Gore said the county is ahead of other regions in terms of how much study already has taken place, referring to recent reports by the U.S. Geological Survey.
But growing tension over the impact of vineyard expansion and a booming wine industry have ensured water also is a source of local political conflict.
Most residents reliant on groundwater, including their own wells, have more questions than answers so far about the new bureaucracies, Gore said.
“Does this mean your wells are going to be monitored in the future? Heck, yeah,” he said. “This is a public trust. It’s not just where your straw is. We don’t want to have a tragedy of the commons.”
Elected Sonoma County and city officials have built the framework for three regional governing bodies responsible for the Santa Rosa Plain, Sonoma Valley and Petaluma Valley basins.
The purpose is make sure they can sustain growing demand and the competing interests of residential, agricultural and conservation interests.
The new entities will take charge of developing action plans identifying local groundwater conditions, potential problems and mechanisms for monitoring and controlling withdrawals.
Before a June 30 deadline established by the new state law, the agencies must take public input on their formation and file information with the state designating their membership, leadership and mechanism for stakeholder input.
The June meetings will include election of officers for each of the groundwater agencies, which are made up of members of local city councils, water districts, resource conservation districts and the county Board of Supervisors.
They also will address the appointment of stakeholders - representatives from environmental, rural residential, agricultural, business arenas and others - to advisory boards, as required by the state.
“People should be paying attention,” Gore said. “And they should stay tuned.”
More information and maps of the groundwater basins are available at sonomacountygroundwater.org.
You can reach Staff Writer Mary Callahan at 707-521-5249 or firstname.lastname@example.org. On Twitter @MaryCallahanB.