Working toward groundwater sustainability at the county level
By Tito Sasaki, Chair, Water Committee, Sonoma County Farm Bureau
We appreciate the Board of Supervisors’ approval of the formation of a Groundwater Sustainability Agency (GSA) and preparation of a Groundwater Sustainability Plan (GSP) for each of the three subject groundwater basins in the county. These three GSAs and GSPs would be coordinated at the county level. The Board also endorsed principles that the process be transparent, receptive to public input, efficient, and locally driven. The Board’s leadership is not new. Nearly a decade ago, the Board initiated the non-regulatory Sonoma Valley Groundwater Management Program. Thanks to the Program’s substantial progress to date, we are in much better shape than other basins throughout the state in coping with the Sustainable Groundwater Management Act (SGMA).
Agriculture is a major user of water. Most fruits and vegetables we produce are 80 to 95 percent water. So, we use but also deliver water. In Sonoma Valley, agriculture accounts for less than half (about 44 percent) of the total water usage. However, its share of the groundwater use is higher, at about 53 percent. This is partially because most farms and vineyards are not connected to municipal water supply lines and are dependent on wells. A compensating factor is that agricultural land contributes the lion’s share of the groundwater recharge. With favorable precipitation, agriculture can be a net creditor to the groundwater account. The prospect is brighter as we continue to incorporate the latest water-saving techniques in irrigation and processing, while exploring new ways to enhance groundwater recharge in vineyards and farmlands.
As water is essential for agriculture to survive and serve as the county’s dependable economic force, the Farm Bureau last year started advocating the formation of agricultural water districts so that they may take part in the GSA activities. Then, in April of this year, in recognition of its importance, the California Water Foundation gave the Farm Bureau a $30,000 grant to help form an effective water district for Sonoma Valley and Petaluma Valley.
North Bay Water District was formed in 1963, encompassing some 27,000 acres of unincorporated agricultural territory in the southernmost section of the county. Its board has agreed that the District participate in the GSA formation process, with intent to represent the agricultural interest in the Sonoma Valley and Petaluma Valley groundwater basins once the GSAs are formed. The District is currently studying which agricultural parcels may join the District as new members in due course.
The real challenge for us is greater than simply meeting the SGMA requirement of groundwater sustainability. We must develop reliable and affordable sources of water in the face of inevitable restrictions on groundwater extraction. Coupled with continued conservation efforts and better utilization of recycled water, a realistic amount of additional water supply should keep Sonoma Valley in a tolerable condition in the future. Think of the fact that the total annual groundwater demand in the Valley today is less than four percent of the total precipitation in the watershed in a normal year. We should also remember that the full potential of the Russian River water supply has not been realized.
If we fail to act, the State will not only take over our groundwater management but also strangle us with ever more onerous regulations and penalties as evidenced in the recently passed Senate Bill 88. We must retain our future in our hand. The local GSA formation is the first step we should take.
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