By Tito Sasaki, Chair, Water Committee, SCFB
WELLS have been the most reliable source of water. However, with drought and the new Sustainable Groundwater Management Act (SGMA), we would no longer be able to count on our wells for our survival.
We have already experienced our rights for surface water being far from dependable. State Water Board may at any time restrict or even suspend your water rights.
Similarly, sometime after next year your pumping of groundwater will be regulated if you are in the Santa Rosa Plain, Petaluma Valley, or Sonoma Valley groundwater basin. SGMA requires that every basin of medium or high priority in the State, including Santa Rosa, Petaluma and Sonoma, establish a Groundwater Sustainability Agency (GSA) by mid-2017. The GSA then must prepare and adopt a Groundwater Sustainability Plan by 2022, and implement it to bring the basin to sustainable condition within 20 years. If a basin fails to achieve any of the above, the State will step in.
A GSA must be a public agency that has water supply, water management, or land use responsibility, or a team of such agencies. In our case there are eleven agencies that meet the criteria: the County, Sonoma County Water Agency (SCWA), seven cities ranging from Windsor down to Sonoma, Valley of the Moon Water District, and North Bay Water District. These agencies are currently devising an optimal form of governance for the three basins. It is possible that each basin would have a joint-powers-agreement GSA made up of the local agencies, the County PRMD, and the SCWA. The three GSA’s could in turn create a coordinating council that will assure the compatibility of their Plans and of the actions each GSA may take.
Realizing that any form of GSA would leave most agricultural lands without direct representation, Sonoma County Farm Bureau last year started advocating the creation of irrigation districts or agricultural water districts. Such districts, if formed in time, will be qualified to join the GSA and partake in the development of the Plan that might not otherwise adequately reflect the needs of agriculture. The Farm Bureau received a grant of $30,000 last April from the California Water Foundation to help form a district in Sonoma and Petaluma Valleys.
North Bay Water District, mentioned earlier as one of the eleven eligible agencies, currently covers only 27,000 acres at the southern fringe of the county, mostly dairies and hay fields. However, its board in May agreed to apply to the Local Agency Formation Commission (LAFCO) for annexation of some 75,000 acres of agricultural land in Sonoma and Petaluma Valleys. We plan to complete the application by the year-end.
The work to create an irrigation district covering the Santa Rosa Plain is also under way with the help from the office of Sen. McGuire.
The mandate of a GSA is to attain groundwater sustainability through regulatory and other means. Our aim is to secure adequate amount of affordable water while achieving groundwater sustainability. The Districts we will create can have power and resources to go beyond the GSA mandate. We could provide sites for storm water capturing and groundwater banking projects, enhance groundwater percolation, build water distribution network and optimize pumping patterns, just to name a few.
Our goal is to keep our agriculture thriving even if we can no longer depend on our wells. All needed is your commitment, imagination, and energetic action to build effective Districts.