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Talking Points on Water for General Plan Update Hearings

Draft Talking Points for Supervisors’ Hearings on Water Aspects of the General Plan Update:

Open Space and Resource Conservation Element (including riparian corridors): Wednesday, August 29, at 6:00 pm in the Glaser Center, and Thursday, August 30, at 1:30 pm in the Board of Supervisors’ Chambers.

Introduction

Sonoma County residents support a General Plan that protects our quality of life: clean air and water, other natural resources, and our world-renowned landscapes.

Water was a high priority for many who spoke at packed General Plan scoping meetings six years ago. Concerns have only grown, because of concerns that our quality of life will worsen unless we effectively plan and manage growth in balance with our water resources. We can and must adopt policies that will reduce significant and unavoidable impacts to our water resources and water-dependent habitats.

Please show up and express your support for the platform of the Greenbelt Alliance coalition on Greenhouse Gas Emissions, Water and Land Use.

Then express your support for the policies proposed by the Sonoma County Water Coalition.

Water Policies We Need (pick the ones you can speak about with passion)

1. A comprehensive water management plan for Sonoma County. We cannot continue deciding to take more and more surface water from our rivers and withdraw more and more groundwater, while disposing of wastewater, or reusing it, without considering the connections between natural resources and our wastes.

2. Protect Sonoma County’s groundwater recharge areas. Protection must extend into all policies that govern land uses. In particular it must be incorporated into building codes. Our aquifers are the biggest and least expensive places for storing winter rainfall. We cannot continue paving over the groundwater recharge areas, which provide the resource for aquifer storage.

3. Seriously examine the cumulative impact of Sonoma County’s reputed 40,000 (probably more) wells. Recent studies have shown that groundwater levels are dropping in every part of Sonoma County that has come under investigation. We cannot continue deepening wells and using ever increasing amounts of energy to pump water up from deeper and deeper aquifers, incidentally producing additional greenhouse gas emissions (see 10).

4. Establish policies to deal with groundwater overdraft in areas where declines have been documented. We cannot keep supporting studies and writing reports; eventually something has to be done to address the problem and limit groundwater withdrawals.

5. Strengthen General Plan language to control water exports from Sonoma County. Threats to our water resources include demands from commercial interests and other counties. We cannot depend upon our State representatives to rescue us from the next scheme to ship our water south.

6. Give higher priority to water conservation, efficiency, and reuse than to developing new water sources. Every day, the local press carries letters pointing out that calls to conserve water are pointless if the saved water will be used simply to support new developments and not benefit the environment. We must find ways to dedicate most of the water saved to the environment, by leaving it untapped in groundwater and surface water sources.

7. Pay more attention to water quality. No longer can we assume that our wastes are safely disposed of. Many unregulated drugs and household/farm chemicals pass through our wastewater treatment plants unchanged. So-called solutions, such as modular package treatment plants, will require costly removal or replacement when they reach the end of their intended service life, often at ratepayer expense. We need to establish a Citizens’ Advisory Committee which will conduct reviews of wastewater issues, with particular emphasis on emerging and unregulated contaminants, and issue periodic public reports.

8. Protect our fresh water supply by protecting the land beside our rivers and creeks, which also support fish and wildlife. Our riparian corridors are important sites for groundwater recharge in Sonoma County, especially where they support healthy native vegetation. We must become aware that our habitat is just as fragile as that of other creatures with whom we share this planet, and that in many cases the health of our habitat depends on the health of theirs.

9. Design public education programs to obtain buy-in from every water user. The General Plan needs to include public education policies to raise the awareness of critical water supply limitations, and the connection between what we flush down the toilet/kitchen sink and the appearance of pollutants in our water supplies.

10. Recognize the connection between water use and energy use/greenhouse gas emissions. Generating the energy that public utilities, agriculture, and homeowners use to pump and treat water and wastewater, is a major contributor to heat-trapping greenhouse gas emissions in the atmosphere. Declining groundwater levels and ever increasing water consumption will result in significantly increased energy consumption and emissions (see 3), preventing attainment of local and global goals for reducing greenhouse gas emissions.

Conclusion

We will not have another chance to update the County’s General Plan for fifteen to twenty years, and will have to live with what the Board of Supervisors approves. It is therefore essential that you attend the hearings and let them know how important sound water management and water protection policies are to you.