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Lawsuit Filed on Sonoma County Water Agency’s Water Plan

Santa Rosa – On Monday, March 19, a broad coalition of community organizations representing conservationists, farmers, ranchers, fishermen and recreationists filed a lawsuit in Sonoma County Superior Court challenging the Sonoma County Water Agency’s (SCWA’s) recently-adopted Urban Water Management Plan (UWMP). California’s Urban Water Management Planning Act (UWMPA) requires major urban water purveyors such as SCWA to prepare a UWMP every five years to assess available ground and surface water supplies and determine whether they are sufficient to meet projected water demands. SCWA’s most recent UWMP claims that Sonoma County has adequate ground and surface water supplies for substantial urban growth.

This lawsuit challenges SCWA’s claim, pointing out that over-pumping has caused water tables to drop in many areas of the County, and that SCWA’s proposal to increase diversions from the Russian River conflicts with protection of this river for fish and wildlife, recreation, and existing agricultural and domestic uses. The lawsuit asks the superior court to set aside SCWA’s UWMP, and direct SCWA to acknowledge and address the severe water shortages facing Sonoma County before unsustainable urban growth deprives existing and future agricultural, urban, and recreational uses of essential water supplies.

The lawsuit shows that SCWA’s UWMP ignores or understates many severe constraints on future water supply, including:

  • declining water tables in many parts of Sonoma County including the Santa Rosa plain
  • increasing contamination of the Russian River by harmful pathogens and chemicals
  • recent listings of three salmon species in the Russian and Eel Rivers under the Endangered Species Act
  • increasingly erratic rainfall patterns and prolonged drought periods due to global warming
  • recent court rulings curtailing SCWA’s reliance upon the importation of water from the Eel River, which currently supplies over half of the Russian River’s summer flow The lawsuit also shows that SCWA’s UWMP fails to develop contingency plans to address these looming constraints on future ground and surface water supplies. Instead, the SCWA’s plan relies on “paper water,” or unproven water supplies.

Joining the lawsuit are fourteen community organizations as well as an individual rancher. The petitioning organizations include the Sonoma County Water Coalition, the Russian River Watershed Protection Committee, the Community Alliance With Family Farmers, the Westside Association to Save Agriculture, the Coast Action Group, the O.W.L. Foundation, the Sebastopol Water Information Group, and the North Coast Rivers Alliance, among others.

The Sonoma County Water Coalition (SCWC), founded in 2004, is a forum for more than thirty local groups to share information and concerns about water, and to take action to improve management of this vital resource in Sonoma County. The combined membership of its member groups is more than 25,000 concerned citizens.

The Russian River Watershed Protection Committee (RRWPC), founded in 1980, has 1,400 supporters, and works to protect the health of the Russian River, representing mostly property owners along the lower Russian River and recreationists.

The Community Alliance with Family Farmers (CAFF) is a statewide organization of family farmers that works to develop local community food systems, to create environmentally sustainable farming methods, and to enact state and local policies to support these efforts.

The Westside Association to Save Agriculture (WASA) is an organization of farmers and residents that engages in public education and advocacy to promote the protection and restoration of agricultural lands and uses on the west side of the Middle Reach of the Russian River near Healdsburg.

The O.W.L. Foundation comprises concerned citizens dependent on groundwater resources from the Santa Rosa plain that is dedicated to educating the public and elected officials about the severity of the current water crisis in Sonoma County, and the technical methods available to resolve the crisis.

The Sebastopol Water Information Group (SWiG) is a community organization whose members include experts in the water sciences who monitor groundwater contamination and well water levels, and provide information to well owners.

The North Coast Rivers Alliance (NCRA) is an environmental organization that works to protect the Russian River and other rivers of California’s north coast from the adverse effects of excessive water diversions, ill-planned urban development, and harmful resource extraction, pollution, and other forms of degradation.

Verified Petition for Writ of Mandate and Complaint for Declaratory and Injunctive Relief (3266kb pdf)