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Board Nears Decision on Santa Rosa Plain Groundwater Sustainability Fee as Meetings Continue

Apr 3, 2019

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Representatives of a new local water agency continued to present information about a proposed fee on well owners within the Santa Rosa Plain this week as a final decision on the fee approaches. Next meeting is April 11 in Santa Rosa

The fee is being considered due to the Sustainable Groundwater Management Act (SGMA), a state law passed in 2014 that requires local governments to create Groundwater Sustainable Agencies (GSAs) to manage water use in certain groundwater basins across the state.

In Sonoma County, three basins are regulated under the law: the Santa Rosa Plain, the Petaluma Valley Plain and the Sonoma Valley Plain.

As the Gazette reported in February, the Santa Rosa Plain GSA was established in 2017 and was funded by local agencies for the first two years. For the next three years, the agency will be funded by a fee on the water users called the Groundwater Sustainability Fee.

Community members attend a Jan. 30 meeting.

After 2022, the fee will be based on calculations made during the Groundwater Sustainability Plan process.

If the local agency does not create a local fee structure, the state will take over the process and impose significantly higher fees, according to public officials.

“We have a law, we want to make the best of it. That’s our goal here,” Santa Rosa Plain GSA Administrator Andy Rodgers said at a Wednesday, Jan. 30 meeting at the Finley Center.

For instance, the agency estimates that the fee will cost rural well owners between $8 and $13 per year.The state would charge $100 per parcel each year if it intervened in the process.

Well owners who also use city water systems will pay between $1 and $3 per year under the GSA's proposed fee structure.

Rodgers said that the agency is presenting a range because they have not yet decided on a final fee and do not want to announce a fee that is significantly higher or lower than what they projected.

The Groundwater Sustainability Plan process

The process has been met with suspicion by some rural residents because groundwater was previously free for well owners. Other residents are supportive of the goal of the new agencies, to achieve"sustainable" groundwater management across the state by 2042.

Rodgers stressed that the new agency is not interested in putting meters on rural water owners' wells. In fact, SGMA does not allow the agency to monitor wells, Rodgers said at a March 6 meeting in Rohnert Park.

According to GSA estimates, rural residents use 25 percent of the groundwater in the basin while city agencies use 37 percent and agricultural users consume 33 percent of the water.

Agricultural users will pay a fee based on the number irrigated acres multiplied by an estimated usage rate based on the type of crop. Water agencies for cities within the plain, including Santa Rosa and Rohnert Park, will pay an annual fee based on their usage.

"We knew this was coming and it's factored into the rates the City Council set a year and a half ago," Rohnert Park's City Engineer Mary Grace Pawson said. "We do not anticipate this particular new mandate is going result in a rate increase for our customers."

FINANCIAL HARDSHIP GRANTS CONSIDERED

The Board is also considering creating a grant program to allow small-scale farmers to waive the new fee if it constitutes a financial hardship.

"We're working on it," Rodgers said Wednesday, noting that there are some legal questions about implementing a grant program.

A map of the Santa Rosa Plain Groundwater Basin

CASINO CONCERNS

Other members of the public have questioned the amount commercial water users, including the Graton Casino, will pay for their groundwater usage.

The Graton Casino will not be required to pay an annual fee due to the legal status of the Federated Indians of Graton Rancheria. 

"[The tribe] is a sovereign entity. SGMA is a state law, and legally the state cannot access a fee [on the casino]," Jay Jasperse,the plan manager for the Santa Rosa Plain GSA.

The casino has negotiated a separate groundwater use fee with the county and is represented on the GSA Advisory Committee, according to Jasperse.

UPCOMING MEETINGS

The Santa Rosa Plain Board will meet twice in the next month to discuss the public meetings and consider approving the fee. Both meetings will be held at the City of Santa Rosa's Utility Field Office, 35 Stony Point Road, Santa Rosa

Thursday,  March 14, 1:00pm - 3:30pm

Thursday,  April 11, 1:00pm - 3:30pm


For more information on the process, read the Gazette's previous coverage or visit the Santa Rosa Plain's website.

Comments:

Mar 15, 2019
VIA EMAIL: The Santa Rosa Plain Groundwater Sustainability Agency (GSA) Board of Directors met yesterday to review the proposed fee schedules, a Registration Program, and a number of other issues. In a surprise turn of events, the two Supervisors on the Board suggested a change to the payment schedule that has been being discussed at public workshops and in recent Board and Advisory Committee meetings. A similar proposal had been made last year, but it stalled at that time. I sent summaries of the fee structure that had been proposed prior to this. Here are two links that may help you sort it out. http://santarosaplaingroundwater.org/wp-content/uploads/Rate-and-Fee-Study-FAQs.pdf The presentation at the recent March public workshop: http://santarosaplaingroundwater.org/wp-content/uploads/Community-Meeting-PPT_V4_animated_ada.pdf Yesterday the City representatives expressed concern about their obligations and questioned the fairness to their constituents. As has been true in the Workshops, several domestic well users and a (very) few agricultural interests stated their objection to the metrics used to quantify their use (upon which the amounts were based). Mike Marini, speaking for his interests in the winery industry questioned the 3 years of expenses because the funds will primarily be spent on writing the Plan, not on implementation - which means monies will be spent on what he called administration. Staff reported on the turnout at the workshops being primarily “de minimus” (residential/limited use) water users who spoke passionately in opposition to paying for water use - giving a variety of reasons and positions. Supervisor Zane and Chair/Supervisor Hopkins offered an alternative. It was not detailed, but the gist was that the County might pay the portion that is proposed to be allocated to “de minimus” and small Ag operations. I was not clear if it would also offset large agricultural water users. The difference being that the larger Ag operations are often monitoring their water use so data is available for their use. The motion that carried included continuing to flesh out the currently proposed fee structure, and to further explore the way the County (as representatives of us in the unincorporated areas) might functionally and legally cover the costs that would be allocated to lesser water users in the unincorporated areas within the Santa Rosa Basin for the next Phase when the Plan is developed. Upcoming Meetings (current schedule): April 11, 2019 SRP GSA meeting to review groundwater user fees Public Noticing June 13, 2019 SRP GSA Public Hearing for fee adoption and Approval of Resolution 2nd reading of Groundwater User Registration Program July Implement Groundwater User Registration Program August 1, 2019 Deadline to submit fee schedule to County Assessor Stay tuned, be involved. ~ Rue Furch
- Vesta Copestakes
Apr 3, 2019
SUBMITTED BY READER: Is the proposed well water fee proposed by the Santa Rosa Plains Groundwater Sustainability Agency legal? Water is sacred, without water we can't live. Are we being charged a fee to subsidize the big agriculture? On April 11th the board at SRPGSA will be voting for this fee.to be added to our property tax without a vote. It's at 1:00 at their Utility Field Office 35 Stony Point S.R. If this seems unfair, call your supervisor L.Hopkins, Shirley Zane. Vineyards now comprise 60,000 acres of Sonoma county land and are making a profit on our public trust. In this plan, they will not be metered and will continue to use as much of our water as they want. After the Jan meeting when the public was invited to speak (350.plus ) told that this would not go for a vote many were angry. some of us created Rural Homeowners Alliance. and a petition against this. Go to ruralhomeowners@gmail.com to get a copy. The fee was created by guessing that each well owner uses approx. 456 gal. of water a day. times 8,450 well owners, comes to 25% of overall usage We believe this inaccurate. I use 30 gal. With 5 in our household.. Compared to 35% for big ag. In their plan, there will be no metering of vineyards and they will continue to use as much as they want to create their profits. On their board of directors, there is no-one supporting the needs of our local food producers or rural homeowners. We need an equitable plan with protections built in for the minimal user, not s flat rate fee on our property tax. ~ Susan Bahl
- Vesta Copestakes
Apr 3, 2019
SUBMITTED BY READER: Dear Stewards and neighbors, There is a very small chance if enough people show up for this meeting April 11th at 1:00 Utilities Offices 35 Stony Point Santa Rosa, CA 95472 to protest this fee that will be applied to our property tax, the Santa Rosa Plains Groundwater Sustainability Agency could vote against it. It is a very small chance. There's is much media hype that has gone into this. Some people are being lead to believe that this is a good thing, because then vineyards, wineries, developers will have to pay their fair share, but that is not the case. That is not the plan.. What will most likely happen is by the end of the year you will see a fee of 12 dollars applied to your property tax. In two years that will be increased..this is just to get the mandatory sign-up of all wells. Dangling the fish hook, so you comply..then they will tell us that there needs to be more wells, and more water pumped because Santa Rosa Basin has many more things to do with our water. Build housing developments, put in new vineyards, and of course, they have to pay for the employees that will be coming out to monitor your wells and charge you for your water. So the fee goes to 100 dollars a year, or more depending on the projects..they have already have spent 3 million with no meters set up for vineyards and industrial agriculture Bring your petitions, send someone in your place, call Linda Hopkins and Shirley Zane! You can make a difference! But we need to organize. The first step is to get those that "may" have vested interest off the board. And demand that at least two voting seats are held by those supporting rural homeowners and small food producers. And two positions on the advisory committee. Let's organize to protect our common good!. Protecting our public trusts, Susan - ruralhomeowners@gmail.com Rural Homeowners Alliance 707-484-4307
- Vesta Copestakes
Apr 4, 2019
The Santa Rosa Plain Groundwater Sustainability Agency Board (SRPGSAB) is the only Board in Sonoma County to use a little known loophole in our Proposition 26 that the great majority of Sonoma County and statewide citizens voted in 2010 to overwhelmingly approve, thus believing nothing but a supermajority citizen vote would be needed to raise taxes and fees on our Property Tax bill. This is perhaps the first of many agencies taking advantage of the Proposition, and you, in the name of sustaining Agency, or even perhaps, a mission. In fact, the SRPBGSAB is the only GSA Board of the 127 statewide Medium and High priority water basins of the total 517 basins in California, to use such an intentional end run around such an intentional law. This tax on every property owner in the Santa Rosa Basin, has been formed by a Board of 8 public agencies and a private corporation that paid $ 55,000, deeming it their responsibility to have the vote, and only vote for such a Property Tax or ‘Fee’ as they prefer to call it. The Board also cannot guarantee that the initial tax will not be increased after the production of their only task, to a Plan to protect groundwater resources in the SR Plain Basin. This unusual move for funding for merely a Plan begs the question that has been asked at public meetings without an adequate answer: ‘Why wasn’t the $ 2 million of mostly taxpayer dollars already spent, enough to complete a Plan like the other 127 prioritized basins, such as Petaluma Basin, Sonoma Basin, Oxnard Basin, Kern Basin, Paso Robles, Madera, etc.?’ This hunger for more money to fund more consultants for less effective product doesn’t ring of Best Practices and taxes one’s notions of reasonability. The other problem with the SRGSAB’s plan to further fund a Groundwater Management Plan is that the Board only chose two tiers of water users, Residents and Ag. This begs the other question that was asked by so many at meetings: ‘Why weren’t the heaviest groundwater extractors, selling our groundwater for profit, and necessitating this whole groundwater overdraft ordeal, broken out and up, into a ‘Highest Use Fee’ tier to help fund their Plan? If there was equity in the 9 Member Board, to represent the residential users, urban and rural alike, the taxed tiers would be more accurately representational of actual groundwater use, or as the state priority suggests, abuse. Underestimating industrial extractors and overestimating say, rural residential use at 466 gallons per day is telling. My wife and I would have to take 6 baths @ 35 gallons each, a couple of showers, and some flushes, yes, every day, to equal this use upon which the Board’s tax is based. Will groundwater be sustained and regulated unequally, in a similar manner from this Board? There were about 8 people in the audience out of nearly 350,000 basin residents at the last SRPGSA Board Meeting in March. The meeting was at 1 PM just as this next one is on April 11, a difficult time for the average working Joe or Mary. This next meeting could be the determinant discussion and vote. If you care about your taxes, now and in the future, your home, your groundwater, and government accountability you might wish to show up.
- Douglas Emery
Apr 5, 2019
Hi, I'm interested in this issue as I have a well within the Santa Rosa city limits. I see a lot of information in the above comments but I have to say, it is difficult to wade through since it is all one paragraph. It would be really helpful if comments were separated by paragraphs, and maybe even if links were in separate lines. It is hard to copy and paste with a laptop keyboard. Just a suggestion. In the meantime, I will try to wade through the comments, because they seem well thought out and relevant.
- joy dellas

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