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Judge Rules RP Water Study is Flawed

Judge Owen of Sonoma Superior Court tentatively ruled May 30 in favor of the OWL Foundation of Penngrove that says Rohnert Park doesn’t have enough water for 3,600 new homes planned on the city’s eastern edge and other proposed growth. Almost half of those homes already have City Council approval, based in part on a $344,000 water supply study.

When the council approved the 1,645-unit University District this month, city officials said it would be served by the system of 42 municipal wells and the Sonoma County Water Agency’s Russian River aqueduct. Rohnert Park had agreed to curtail its ground water pumping in 2002 after neighboring Penngrove residents sued over concerns that the city’s practices were causing their wells to run dry. However, the council approved a 1,645-home development this month, Rohnert Park’s largest in a decade. A separate plan for 2,000 homes was also recently unveiled. Rohnert Park has plans to annex more than 800 acres and build up to 4,000 homes over the next 20 years.

The OWL Foundation lawsuit says the the city’s 2005 study was overly optimistic and ignored scientific data suggesting its water supply situation is worsening. The lawsuit contended the City Council recklessly embraced the water study to justify expansion. It said the city failed to comply with a state law that became effective in 2002 mandating that adequate water supply be available before major subdivisions and commercial developments are approved. “The document was really just completely incompetent,” said H.R. Downs, president of the OWL Foundation, which pursues water issues. “There were huge flaws in it.”

Rohnert Park City Manager Steve Donley said OWL’s claim was based on outdated material and does not take into account key data such as soil types.

In a tentative ruling, Sonoma County Superior Court Judge Knoel Owen agreed the study does not comply with state law requiring analysis of ground water basins. The lawsuit said the city’s study erroneously assumed that the Sonoma County Water Agency can meet Rohnert Park’s growing demand for water over the next two decades. It wasn’t immediately clear what the full impact of the ruling would be if it stands.

The OWL Foundation said the water agency may not be able to rely on the Russian River supply if diversions from the Eel River into the Russian River are reduced and because of the lack of a higher capacity delivery system. The study, the lawsuit said, “turns a blind eye to the city’s ever worsening water supply.”

“If the water demand can be balanced with water supply, we have no problem,” Downs said.