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May 19, 2019
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Groundwater fee under consideration

April 12, 2019

Thurs., April 11, the Santa Rosa Plain Groundwater Sustainability Agency (GSA) Board of Directors considered an ordinance to allow groundwater users to be registered and would authorize the GSA to adopt a groundwater sustainability fee.

The 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). This state-mandated agency is nearing completion of a year-long study to finds ways to finance day-to-day operations and groundwater planning. A groundwater sustainability fee–based on estimated groundwater use–is being considered.

Proposed fee amounts could range from $1-$3 annually for a well-owner with a small irrigation well (but whose main water supply is from a city) to between $16-$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.) Rural residents, who rely solely on a well for water, could pay between $8-$13 annually.

The Groundwater User Registration Program would ensure that the GSA’s information regarding groundwater use is correct and would help fill data gaps about groundwater users and well-owners in the basin.  The proposed ordinance would apply to landowners with groundwater wells, and to all facilities that directly use groundwater, including cities, towns, mutual water districts, wineries, farms, businesses, schools, golf courses and others. Residents and businesses whose only water source is from a city, town or mutual water district would not be subject to the ordinance and would not directly pay the fee. The full agenda can be found at www.santarosaplaingroundwater.org.

 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 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 that would likely be 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 of groundwater is used 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 for agriculture, cities, mutual water systems, golf courses and commercial users.

For more information about the Santa Rosa Plain GSA, go to www.santarosaplaingroundwater.org.