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Valley’s Groundwater Plan OK’d by Two Agencies

By Sandi Hansen INDEX-TRIBUNE STAFF WRITER

In what is being described as the first ever joint-agencies project studying groundwater in Sonoma Valley, the boards of directors of both the Sonoma County Water Agency and the Valley of the Moon Water District formally approved the Groundwater Management Plan Tuesday at their respective meetings. The City of Sonoma is expected to approve it shortly.

The plan, more than a year in the making, was developed by the 20-member voluntary Sonoma Valley Basin Advisory Panel whose makeup includes representatives from agriculture and other businesses, rural and urban water users and environmental, local, county and state water agencies. Its intent is to provide a blueprint for managing Sonoma Valley’s groundwater resources far into the future while maintaining local control over groundwater issues and motivating stakeholders to implement major conservation and water recycling efforts.

According to the plan’s executive summary, Sonoma Valley relies on groundwater and imported water to meet domestic, agricultural and urban demands. Based on a 2006 United States Geological Survey, in 2000 more than half the water demand in the Valley was met by groundwater (57 percent), followed by imported water (36 percent), with the remaining demand met from recycled water (7 percent).

The largest use of groundwater in 2000 was for irrigating (72 percent, mostly for grapes), followed by rural domestic use (19 percent) and urban demand was the third largest (9 percent). After much studying and discussion of these and numerous other statistics, maps, models and projections during 13 meetings since 2006, the Basin Advisory Panel came to a consensus on the objectives and goals of the groundwater plan including: maintaining groundwater elevations, improving conservation, protecting and enhancing recharge areas, managing groundwater in conjunction with other water sources, protecting groundwater quality including minimizing saline intrusion, improving the groundwater database through increased voluntary well monitoring and managing groundwater with local control. Tuesday morning, the Sonoma County Water Agency board of directors, who are also the Sonoma County Supervisors, enthusiastically approved the massive and complex plan which has the water agency as the lead agency partnering with the Valley of the Moon Water District, the City of Sonoma and the Sonoma Valley County Sanitation District.

First District Supervisor Valerie Brown, a staunch supporter of the groundwater plan, said she was surprised at the enthusiasm shown by the water agency boardmembers in approving the plan. “I’ve never seen Mike Reilly salivating as much as he was,” Brown said. Reilly represents the Santa Rosa plain, and the City of Santa Rosa soon will be developing its own plan, which Brown said she expects will be modeled after Sonoma Valley’s. “We’re kind of on the front edge looking at water resources and long-term water availability,” she said. “We’re on the cutting edge and understanding that what is happening here in the Valley is so important and can be used as a model for the rest of California,” she added.

Prior to the Valley of the Moon Water District’s regular board meeting Tuesday night, a joint meeting of the water district directors and the Sonoma City Council was held to present the groundwater plan and receive public input.

Also attending were Basin Advisory Panel members and consultants, water agency representatives, and a few interested citizens who viewed a PowerPoint presentation, produced by the water agency, on the yearlong development of the Groundwater Management Plan. Bill Keene and Jay Jasperse, both water agency staff and very involved in the plan’s development, outlined the steps taken to arrive at the final draft.

“This collaborative effort has been made possible by a really diverse group of people and it has been a pleasure to work with them,” Keene said.

The next phase in the massive project is working toward implementation of the voluntary groundwater plan’s recommendations, including securing government funding, no easy task according to BAP president and water boardmember Mark Bramfitt. “We’ve got some huge challenges ahead, but it feels good to have the framework. I think we have the constituency in the Valley, the question is how we get there,” Bramfitt said. “I hope we can get state-grant funding. We know what we need to do, now it’s how we’re going to get there,” Bramfitt added.

Ed Kenny, water board president, said in the 15 years he’s been a director of the district, this is the first time he’s ever seen a joint meeting with the Sonoma City Council and collaborating on a joint venture. Turning to the councilmembers, Kenny said, “You broke the ice.”