Sonoma County to begin charging fees for groundwater

THE PRESS DEMOCRAT | December 14, 2018, 12:11PM
Image: Kent Porter, PD

Thousands of Sonoma County residents who rely on groundwater will likely see new fees on their property tax bill next fall, helping pay for a legally required groundwater regulatory plan.

Local agencies governing groundwater resources were created in 2017 following the passage of a landmark California law intended to safeguard the previously unregulated water supply. Those new agencies in the Santa Rosa Plain, the Sonoma Valley and the Petaluma Valley were given until 2022 to craft plans that take stock of the amount of groundwater in each basin and establish measures ensuring sustainability for the next 20 years.

The agencies have each received $1 million in state grant funding, but officials say more money is needed to complete the framework. The groundwater agency in the Santa Rosa Plain has opted to levy fees on users to bridge its $1 million gap, while the Petaluma Valley and Sonoma Valley agencies will pay their own respective costs, said Ann DuBay, a Sonoma County Water Agency spokeswoman.

The board of directors of the Santa Rosa Plain agency held a study session Thursday to hone in on fees and ways to create a program to register wells in the basin. It covers 78,720 acres from Rohnert Park and Cotati north to Windsor, including Santa Rosa and the east edge of Sebastopol.

Potential fees, which vary by type of use, would be levied on cities, water districts, farmers, businesses and residents with wells over the course of three years. About 13,000 parcels could be impacted by new fees, DuBay said.

Opportunities for grant money have been exhausted, and the agency chose not to pursue a parcel tax measure, leaving fees as the most viable funding option, DuBay said.

“There was a widespread desire to try to spread the costs as widely as possible and not have the (fee) impacts be significantly large,” said Jay Jasperse, chief engineer and groundwater manager for the Sonoma County Water Agency.

Under the proposed structure, a rural residential user could expect to pay…

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