Sonoma Water E-News | March 2019
Three New Community Meetings Scheduled on Santa Rosa
Plain Groundwater Sustainability Fee
The Santa Rosa Plain Groundwater Sustainability Agency (GSA) is hosting a series of community meetings in early March, to discuss a proposed groundwater sustainability fee to provide short-term funding for the new agency. Attendees will also learn about a proposed groundwater user registration program. The same information will be presented at each of the meetings, which will take place at 6 p.m., on March 4, March 6 and March 7 at various locations throughout the Santa Rosa Plain basin (details below). The March 4 meeting will be taped and can be watched remotely. The additional meetings are scheduled to allow people an opportunity to ask questions and provide feedback after an overflow crowd attended a January 30 meeting in Santa Rosa. The March meetings will cover the same information that was discussed at the January meeting. No decisions will be made at the Community Meetings. The GSA Board will consider the fee methodology and levels at its March 14 and April 11 meetings (1 p.m., 35 Stony Point Road, Santa Rosa).
This state-mandated GSA was created to sustain the quality and quantity of groundwater in the Santa Rosa Plain (generally, the valley floor stretching from Cotati to Windsor and from the foot of Sonoma Mountain to Sebastopol). The GSA is nearing completion of a year-long study and regular public meetings to finds ways to finance day-to-day operations and groundwater planning. A groundwater sustainability fee – based on estimated groundwater use – is being considered.

“The GSA Board looked at multiple fees, rates or taxes to find an option that is fair, equitable and easy to administer. While no choice was perfect, a fee based on actual or estimated groundwater use meets all these criteria,” said GSA Board member Joe Dutton, who also served on an ad hoc committee that reviewed fee options. “To make sure that estimated groundwater use reflects what’s happening in the field, we talked to farmers and local agriculture experts and adjusted the numbers based on their feedback.”

Proposed fee amounts currently range up to $3 annually for a well owner with a small irrigation well (but whose main water supply is from a city) and up to $26 per acre foot for larger pumpers, like cities, towns, mutual water companies, agriculture and golf courses. (An acre foot of water is equivalent to 325,851 gallons.) The proposed fee range for rural residents is up to $13 annually. ‘Rural Residential’ well owners rely solely on a well for water, and comprise an estimated 24% of groundwater use in the Santa Rosa Plain basin. The GSA is not legally permitted to (nor does it have a desire to) meter rural residential wells, so must use estimates to determine total rural residential water use.
ABOUT THE RATE AND FEE STUDY
The Sustainable Groundwater Management Act (SGMA) was passed into California law in fall 2014. The Act requires that State-designated medium and high priority basins form a GSA and develop a Groundwater Sustainability Plan (GSP). Santa Rosa Plain (essentially, the valley floor, extending from Cotati to Windsor) is a medium priority basin. In compliance with SGMA, the Santa Rosa Plain GSA was created in June, 2017.

GSA member agencies contributed funds to pay for the first two years of GSA operating costs. In fall of 2017, the GSA sought a consultant to conduct a rate and fee study to develop options for funding the agency for the next three years, until the GSP is completed (in 2022). Raftelis (a financial consulting firm) began the study in December 2017. In spring 2018, the GSA was awarded a $1 million Proposition 1 grant from the California Department of Water Resources for developing the GSP. The grant funds significantly offset GSA costs. Funding is needed to cover the remaining operating costs of approximately $337,000 annually.

Strict constitutional requirements on fees and taxes have narrowed the funding options to fees based on actual or estimated groundwater use. Potential fee payers could include groundwater users such as cities, water districts, farmers, businesses and residents with wells. It is estimated that about a third of all groundwater used in Santa Rosa Plain is used by agriculture; about a third by cities and towns; about a quarter by rural residents; with the remainder split amongst other users including mutual water companies, schools, golf courses and other commercial users.

If the GSA does not impose fees, and as a result, cannot complete and implement the GSP, the state could intervene and impose fees that would range from $100 annually for residential well owners to $300 (base fee) plus $40 per acre foot of groundwater use annually for agriculture, cities, mutual water systems, golf courses and commercial users. 
MEETING INFORMATION (the same materials and presentations will be presented at each meeting)

Monday, March 4, 6-8 p.m.
Finley Community Center
2060 West College Avenue, Santa Rosa
The meeting will be taped, and can be viewed afterwards by going to www.santarosaplaingroundwater.org

Wednesday, March 6, 6-8 p.m.
City of Rohnert Park, City Council Chambers
130 Avram Avenue, Rohnert Park
Televised live and broadcast on Comcast Channel 26. The meeting will also be taped, and can be viewed afterwards by going to www.santarosaplaingroundwater.org .

Thursday, March 7, 6-8 p.m.
Town of Windsor, Town Council Chambers
9291 Old Redwood Highway, Building 400, Windsor

For more information about the Santa Rosa Plain GSA, go to:
Atmospheric River Swells Reservoirs and Puts Pressure on Sanitation Collection Systems
The atmospheric river that swept into Sonoma County at the end of January sent reservoirs levels rising in the two main water supply reservoirs that the Sonoma County Water Agency (Sonoma Water) manages, but the heavy rainfall also put pressure on the wastewater collection system in the Sonoma Valley.
 
Between 2-2.5” of rainfall was measured over a 24-hour period in the Sonoma Valley, which contributed to several sanitary sewer overflows, a situation that occurs when a sewer pipeline’s capacity is exceeded due to high inflow of storm water into a pipeline intended only for wastewater. The overflows occurred at the following locations: Vailletti at Casa Bella (2); Highway 12 at Agua Caliente Creek; Rancho Vista Trailer Park at Rancho Drive. It is estimated that less than 50,000 gallons of wastewater overflowed during the four spills. Maintenance crews were on the scene throughout the night and the overflows were stopped at 2 a.m. on Thursday, January 17. Crews were also on scene later in the morning to perform cleanups and monitor flows.
 
Flows into the Sonoma Valley wastewater treatment plant were measured at 20 million gallons per day at 7 p.m. Wednesday night, which is about 10 times greater than flows during dry weather. The increased flows are attributed to inflow and infiltration, which allows groundwater and storm water to enter leaky sewer pipelines, manhole covers and private sewer laterals. The Sonoma Valley County Sanitation District (District) is investing in several projects to reduce inflow and infiltration into its collection system.
 
This summer, the District has plans for a $6-million project to replace 1.8 miles of pipeline along Highway 12. Over the next several years, the District will continue to replace aging pipelines. In addition, the District is implementing a sewer lateral inspection and repair program aimed at reducing inflow from private sewer laterals and illegal connections to the sewer system. Since 1994, the District has completed approximately 9.7 miles of major capacity and structural improvement projects at a cost of $14.9 million.
 
Sonoma Water’s two water supply reservoirs benefitted from the storm, with Lake Mendocino filling to the 72,000 acre foot level, and rising into the flood control pool for the first time this season. When the reservoir reaches 68,000 acre feet, the US Army Corps of Engineers (Army Corps) then controls the dam operations for flood control purposes. But under a new program being tested this year, the Army Corps will allow Sonoma Water to store an additional 11,650 acre feet of water (3.8 billion gallons) in the flood pool, relying on modern weather prediction technology that can forecast incoming storms and provide the Army Corps with the flexibility to release water in advance of the next storm.
 
Lake Sonoma, the larger of the two reservoirs, saw storage swell to 227,000 acre feet, an increase of 15,000 acre feet over a 24-hour period. Between the two reservoirs, the storm brought an increased storage of 20,000 acre feet, or roughly 6.5 billion gallons of water.
Board Approves Larkfield Estates Sewer Project and Low-cost
Construction and Connection Fee Financing
The Sonoma County Water Agency (Sonoma Water) Board of Directors (Board) on February 5th, 2019 approved a project to bring sewer service to the Larkfield Estates neighborhood that was destroyed in the October, 2017 Tubbs Fire.
 
“This is the kind of project that demonstrates the resiliency of our community,” said Water Agency Director James Gore, whose Fourth District includes the Larkfield area. “We’ve come up with a creative solution that allows property owners to voluntarily participate in an infrastructure improvement project, and if they choose to do so, can take advantage of some very good financing. We hope that as many people as possible sign up for this project.”
 
Included in the Board’s actions Tuesday was a March 31, 2019 deadline for property owners to execute a commitment letter indicating their desire to voluntarily participate in the project. The letter states that a sewer lateral will be constructed to their property and they will be required to connect once sewer service is available. The March 31 deadline is needed because it is necessary to know which properties will be included in the project in order to complete the design.
“This is a great example of a community, after the disastrous fires, taking the opportunity to make the community and the infrastructure stronger,” said Board Chair David Rabbitt. “I applaud their strength, perseverance, and initiative.”
 
The financing plan approved by the Board is intended to ease some of the financial burden for property owners during the rebuilding process. The estimated cost per-parcel to participate is $50,000-$65,000, depending on the amount of the construction bid that is awarded. Sonoma Water will offer property owners a 30-year loan to cover construction costs, with a 10-year grace period that includes no interest or principal. After 10 years, property owners would begin payments on a 20-year, fixed-rate 2.5% interest rate loan. Financing of the current connection fee of $11,940 will be available with a 20-year 2% interest loan, with payments starting at the time of connection to the sewer.
 
Total estimated cost for the project is currently $7.9 million, including construction, design, inspection and administration. There are 143 parcels eligible for sewer service within the project area. Previously, the neighborhood was served with privately owned septic systems.
Rainfall and Water Storage Update
Current water supply conditions (2/28/19)
 
Lake Mendocino
Target Storage Curve: 68,400 acre-feet
Current Storage: 94,281 acre-feet (137.84% of Target)
 
Lake Sonoma
Target Storage Curve: 245,000 acre-feet
Current Storage: 304,288 acre-feet (125.20% of Water Supply Pool)
 
Current rainfall conditions (10/1/18 - 2/27/19)
 
Ukiah:
Average (1894-2018 water years): 27.57”
Current Water Year: 30.85” which is 111.89% of average
 
Santa Rosa:
Average (1950-2018 water years): 22.79"
Current Water Year: 35.03” which is 153.71% of average
Upcoming Events

  • March 5, 2019, 8:30 am
  • March 11, 2019, 3 pm - Santa Rosa Plain GSA Advisory Committee Meeting
  • March 12, 2019 8:30 am
  • March 19, 2019, 8:30 am
  • March 26, 2019, 8:30 am

NBWA Board Meetings
  • March 1, 2019, 9:30 am - CANCELLED
  • April 5, 2019 9:30 am
Fact of the Month

Tuesday February 26th, 2019 was the rainiest day in Santa Rosa's history, according to National Weather Service data going back to 1902. Santa Rosa saw 5.66 inches of rain, beating the 1981 record of 5.23 inches of rain.
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