Rural Well Owners: Santa Rosa Plain Alternative Plan Funding Proposal

Santa Rosa Plain Alternative Plan Funding Proposal

May 10, 2019 1 s\c\852\601801\wp\Funding Alternative Plan

Santa Rosa Plain ‘Alternative Plan’ Funding Proposal

Since its formation in June 2017, the nine member agencies of the Santa Rosa Plain Groundwater Sustainability Agency (GSA) have covered the costs of running the GSA and preparing the Groundwater Sustainability Plan (GSP). The member agencies’ funding commitment ends July 2019. While the GSA received a competitive $1 million grant for preparing the GSP, additional funding is needed. A year-long study evaluated multiple alternatives and concluded that the most equitable, efficient and legal funding mechanism is a fee paid by groundwater users based on the amount of groundwater used annually. On March 14, 2019, the GSA Board unanimously approved a groundwater sustainability fee methodology comprised of actual and estimated groundwater use.

While there is support for the fee methodology, some board representatives have expressed concerns about assessing fees on some groundwater user categories before a groundwater sustainability plan is adopted. In response, GSA Board members representing the County of Sonoma and Sonoma Water proposed a ‘Alternative Plan.’ Under the Alternative Plan, a groundwater sustainability fee based on the methodology approved in March 2019 and an accompanying Groundwater Users Registration program would be implemented, but supplemental contributions by the County and Sonoma Water plus Sebastopol’s contribution payments to join the GSA (pending City Council approval) would result in the following three categories:

1. Category 1: Municipal suppliers: The cities of Cotati, Rohnert Park, Santa Rosa and Sebastopol, the Town of Windsor, and Sonoma Water, would pay annual groundwater sustainability user fees.

2. Category 2: Unincorporated groundwater users: Rural residents, water districts (mutuals, public systems and investor-owned utilities), commercial, and agricultural groundwater users in the unincorporated areas would be subject to the groundwater sustainability fee — but would not be assessed for three years.

3. Category 3: Urban groundwater users: Urban well owners (who live within city/town limits but have a well on their property), mobile home parks using groundwater, and commercial groundwater users within cities/towns would be subject to the fee but would not be assessed for three years.

For all three categories, the fee structure and contributions would be established in 2019 and would remain the same for fiscal years 2020-21 and 2021-22. If Alternative Plan contributions are approved by Sonoma County/Sonoma Water boards and the Sebastopol City Council approves a contribution for Board participation, the GSA operating costs may also be proposed to be revised/reduced. For the purposes of this summary, the projected annual GSA operating cost is $328,000. To reach this annual funding goal, Alternative Plan Category 1 will provide about $97,000 annually based on municipal groundwater pumping, and Categories 2 and 3 will provide about $231,000 annually to be paid by contributions by Sonoma County, Sonoma Water and Sebastopol.

Next Steps
• On May 21, the Sonoma County Board of Supervisors and the Sonoma Water Board of Directors will consider a proposal for contributions to the GSA.
• On June 4, the Sebastopol City Council will consider a proposal to contribute a total of $71,400 (in three annual payments of $23,800) to join the GSA Board.
• On June 13, the GSA Board will meet to consider the adoption of the fee and the Groundwater User Registration Ordinance. As part of this discussion, the GSA Board will consider Alternative Plan.