2022 Groundwater Sustainability Fee Authorized
On July 14, 2022 the Board of Directors of the Santa Rosa Plain Groundwater Sustainability Agency (GSA) approved an ordinance requiring the registration of groundwater use facilities, establishing a method for calculating groundwater use, and authorizing the update and adoption of a groundwater sustainability fee.
The groundwater use facility registration and sustainability fee ordinance applies to all groundwater users in the Santa Rosa Plain subbasin (an area extending from Santa Rosa west to Sebastopol and from Windsor south to Cotati). The ordinance will go into effect on August 14, 2022. This ordinance updates an existing Groundwater Use Facility Registration Ordinance that went into effect in 2019.
The groundwater sustainability fee was adopted by a separate resolution and is assessed on all groundwater users in the Santa Rosa Plain at a rate of $40 per acre-foot per year with actual rates determined by estimated extraction by user type. Estimated fees can be viewed by parcel at the Groundwater User Information Data Exchange (GUIDE). Fees are collected via a parcel owner’s property tax bill.
- Ordinance No. 22-01: Groundwater Reporting and Fee Ordinance – ADOPTED
- Santa Rosa Plain GSA Rate and Fee Study – FINAL
- Resolution 008-2022 Establishing a Groundwater Sustainability Fee – ADOPTED
- February 2023 Fee Correction Memo
Correcting Your Groundwater Sustainability Fee
The Groundwater Users Information Data Exchange (GUIDE) program was developed to provide the Santa Rosa Plain Groundwater Sustainability Agency (GSA) with current and refined information about groundwater use in the basin and to give you and other groundwater users an opportunity to view the available data about your parcel’s estimated groundwater use.
Your parcel’s estimated groundwater use is based on the best data available to the GSA. Through the GUIDE program, you can view, correct, or confirm the data the GSA has used for your property within the basin by completing the GUIDE survey. If your corrected data would alter the calculation for your groundwater sustainability fee, staff will assess and work with you to correct.
If you believe there was an issue in the calculation of your groundwater sustainability fee, you must first submit a GUIDE Survey and pay the groundwater sustainability fee. If staff review of your GUIDE survey determines that a fee adjustment is not warranted, you will have the chance to appeal this decision. An appeals form will be automatically sent to you after staff review of your GUIDE survey.
Within 30 days of receiving an appeal, the Administrator will meet with you to discuss the basis of the appeal. A determination shall be made no later than 15 days following the meeting. If the appeal is granted in whole or in part, you will receive a check for the refunded amount.
The Administrator’s decision can be disputed by filing a formal appeal to the GSA’s Board of Directors within 15 days of the delivery of the determination, as described in Ordinance 22-01.
Frequently Asked Questions
How much will I pay in fees?
Your annual fee amount can be viewed by going to https://santarosaplaingroundwater.org/user/. Follow the directions to enter your property address or APN number and a pop-up box will appear with your groundwater use, property type and annual fee.
What is the fee rate this year?
$40 per-acre-foot of groundwater pumped annually. Rural residents, who use groundwater for one home, garden and landscaping are estimated to use 0.5 acre feet of groundwater annually, so their fee is $20 a year.
Will my fee increase in the future?
The fee is based on a five-year average budget and assumes that the GSA will receive about 20% of revenues needed from grants. The fee could vary slightly depending on costs and grant funding but is likely to stay in the $40 per-acre-foot range over the next five years. New fee levels must be approved by the GSA Board of Directors.
How do I pay my fee?
If you receive a property tax bill from the County of Sonoma, the fee will be included on your tax bill.
What if I disagree with the GSA’s assumptions about my groundwater use?
If you disagree with groundwater estimates or land use information, please fill out the GUIDE survey with supporting documentation and submit it to the GSA.
How can I appeal the fee amount?
To avoid interest and penalties, you should pay the estimated fee when you receive your property tax bill and, within 30 days of paying the fee, file an appeal with the GSA by emailing firstname.lastname@example.org.
How did the GSAs get my information? Isn’t it private?
The information used to develop the GUIDE program and to assess fees is publicly available and includes acreage, land use and the numbers and types of buildings on the parcel. The GUIDE database does not display the property owner’s name or personal information.
Do I have to pay a fee if I get my water from a city, water district or mutual water company?
You will not pay a fee directly if you are a water customer of a city, town, water district or water company. However, your water utility may pass on to its customer the fee that it will pay to the GSA for the amount of groundwater it pumps annually.
Why can’t local agencies continue to pay the GSA costs?
Since 2017, the costs of the state-mandated Sustainable Groundwater Management Act have been borne by cities, water districts, Sonoma Water and the county, plus substantial grant funding from the California Department of Water Resources (about $2.2 million in grants and technical assistance in each basin). With the recent adoption of the Groundwater Sustainability Plans, the Groundwater Sustainability Agencies (GSAs) are at a turning point. It is time for all groundwater users, including farmers, businesses and rural residents to help fund the projects, programs and planning to ensure we have groundwater in the future.
Why can’t grants cover the costs?
The GSA has received more than $2 million in grant funding to develop its Groundwater Sustainability Plan. It will be actively seeking grants to implement the recently adopted plan. However, grants do not normally cover operational costs.
Wouldn’t it be less expensive if there was only one GSA?
Maybe. The GSAs have already consolidated many functions (using the same administrative, technical, legal and auditing teams). Because the state requires that each groundwater basin have its own Groundwater Sustainability Plan, there are certain programs and projects that will be unique to each basin, and those costs are specific to the basin in which they originate. However, all GSAs are currently exploring whether consolidation could help reduce costs.
How come I haven’t heard of this fee?
The community was actively engaged in the process and had many opportunities to provide input, including 15 board meetings (five in each basin, including a public hearing), nine advisory committee meetings (three in each basin) and eight community meetings (four in Santa Rosa Plain and two each in Petaluma and Sonoma valleys). Postcards were sent to all groundwater users, and meetings were advertised in local print and social media.
Aren’t people with small wells that are only used for homes/gardens exempt from the Sustainable Groundwater Management Act (SGMA)?
SGMA exempts small residential well-owners from being required to meter their water use, but the new law does give the GSA the authority to regulate and to assess fees on all groundwater users.
All my water goes right back in the ground, so why should I pay a fee?
It can take decades or longer for leach field discharge to reach depths of drinking water aquifers, which is good as it allows nature to treat the water. Further, the volume of water that isn’t lost to consumption, evaporation, and roots/evapotranspiration is much less than what was originally extracted – and the rate of infiltration varies greatly depending on soil types.
How will cannabis growers be charged?
Cannabis growers will be charged based on groundwater use. There are two rates for cannabis, one for indoor grows and one for outdoor grows. The rates are the highest rates for uses that we have. Most of the permitted cannabis growers are required to measure and report water usage, they will be charged on actual usage.
Will the GSA pay for fixing/maintaining/drilling my well?
The GSA is responsible for maintaining sustainability of groundwater basin itself but will not maintain wells.
What benefits will I receive from the fee/what am I paying for?
The fee will allow the basin to remain under local control, rather than being controlled by the state. The fee helps protects your well into the future, by preventing groundwater levels from further declines through voluntary conservation programs and by developing projects. The fee also covers the cost of monitoring groundwater levels, land subsidence, and the movement of saltwater inland from San Pablo Bay. Monitoring provides a picture of what is happening underground due to groundwater pumping and can help fix problems and prevent them from happening.
How is winery water use counted?
Some wineries are also considered public water supply system, and water usage is reported to the state. The reported usage is what would be used for fee purposes. For other wineries, the assumptions for use based on County estimates found here are included https://permitsonoma.org/policiesandprocedures/8-2-1watersupplyuseandconservationassessmentguidelines.
I pay a fee for Warm Springs Dam/Lake Sonoma; why should I pay this fee, too?
While Lake Sonoma provides critical water to hundreds of thousands of people, it also has broader benefits to the community, including:
- Lake Sonoma / Warm Springs Dam, among multiple functions, serve to reduce flood risk in communities along the Russian River. This includes a population in excess of 50,000 in the nearby communities of Healdsburg, Windsor, Guerneville, and the lower river, as well as guarding against $2 billion to $5 billion of economic damages from flooding along the river.
- Prior to the construction of the Russian River Project, most cities and water districts relied primarily on groundwater to meet residential and commercial demands. The availability of year-round water has allowed Sonoma Water’s contractors (the cities of Cotati, Petaluma, Rohnert Park, Santa Rosa, and Sonoma; the town of Windsor; and Valley of the Moon and North Marin water districts) to significantly reduce groundwater pumping.
- From 2017 to 2021, Sonoma Water supplied 90 percent of water that its customers use, while only 10 percent of the water used by cities and water districts came from groundwater. This ‘conjunctive use’ strategy has significantly reduced pressure on the groundwater basins, leaving more water for other users, including rural residents, farmers and the environment. This was shown in the southern Santa Rosa Plain groundwater basin when the cities of Rohnert Park and Cotati shifted their water supplies from primarily groundwater to primarily Russian River supplies. Prior to this shift (1970s-1990’s), groundwater levels were significantly decreasing. When the shift to Russian River water supplies was made, the groundwater levels rebounded to pre-pumping levels.
- The summertime releases of water from Lake Sonoma into Dry Creek and the reductions of flooding in Dry Creek Valley have allowed the growth of a vibrant wine industry, known internationally for high-quality grapes.
- Lake Sonoma is the largest freshwater recreational area in Sonoma County, bringing county residents and tourists to the area and serving as a hub for campers, boating, hikers and hunters.
Rate and Fee Study Development
The Santa Rosa Plain Groundwater Sustainability Agency held community meetings in Spring 2022 to develop the Rate and Fee Study which assessed options for funding implementation of the new Groundwater Sustainability Plan. Materials from those meetings are linked below.
Tuesday, April 26 | Windsor Community Center, 901 Adele Dr., Windsor | Presentation slides
Wednesday, April 27 | Santa Rosa Veterans Memorial Building, 1351 Maple Ave., Santa Rosa | Presentation slides
Groundwater Sustainability Fee Background
California’s Sustainable Groundwater Management Act
A state law, the Sustainable Groundwater Management Act (SGMA), was passed in 2014. The primary aim of this law is to provide a framework for sustainable, local groundwater management of basins most critical to California’s water needs, including the Santa Rosa Plain (see Basin Conditions for information on groundwater conditions in the basin).
Rather than default to allowing the State manage groundwater in the Santa Rosa Plain basin at a significant cost to residents ($100 annually for rural residential well owners, and $300 (base fee) plus $40 per acre foot of water used annually for large well owners), local agencies stepped forward to create a cost-effective and locally controlled Santa Rosa Plain Groundwater Sustainability Agency (GSA) and funded the first two years of the GSA’s operations. The GSA then became self-funded beginning its third year of operation (July 1, 2019) through June 2022.
Funding the Santa Rosa Plain GSA
More than $2 million in grant funding have been awarded by California Department of Water Resources for preparation of a Santa Rosa Plain GSP, including outreach to residents and stakeholders in the Santa Rosa Plain basin. The additional funds needed to support operations of the GSA during fiscal years 2019-2022 (total of $337,000/year) were partially derived by charging municipal pumpers a Groundwater Sustainability Fee (total of $101,885/year). The final funding source to support annual GSA operations through June 2022 ($240,000/year) was provided through annual contributions from the County of Sonoma and Sonoma Water.
A link to the December 12, 2019 signed Ordinance No. 19-02 authorizing the adoption of a Groundwater Sustainability Fee is provided here.
Read the June 13, 2019 Press Release for additional information about this ordinance.
How the Groundwater Sustainability Fee is calculated
In June 2018, the GSA Board directed staff to develop a fee structure that is fair, efficient to collect and that meets California’s constitutional requirements, as established by Proposition 26.
The GSA Board directed staff and consultants to use the best available information and industry practices to create a financially independent GSA for the Santa Rosa Plain. The funding mechanism is designed to incorporate the unique characteristics of the Santa Rosa Plain’s jurisdiction while meeting SGMA’s legal requirements.
The approved groundwater sustainability fee methodology was a result of many decisions that were made during nearly two years of public meetings and workshops held by the Santa Rosa Plain GSA Board and Advisory Committee. Key elements of the resulting fee methodology included the following:
- Based on actual (municipal, public water systems and some commercial) and estimated (rural residential, agriculture and others) groundwater uses
- Fixed for three years (Fiscal Years 2019-2022)
- Goes into effect July 2019
- Total annual amount needing to be raised by fees for GSA operations is $337,000
- Principal groundwater user categories are:
- Municipal Water and Other Water Service Providers
- Agriculture and Other Irrigation
- Rural Residential
- Urban Wells
For more details on the calculation of the Groundwater Sustainability Fee, see the Santa Rosa Plain GSA Rate Study Report completed in 2019.
Though the Board approved the Groundwater Sustainability Fee in June 2019, the Board remained concerned about charging fees prior to the development of a Groundwater Sustainability Plan. Therefore, an ‘Alternative Plan’ to cover costs for all groundwater users in the Santa Rosa Plain basin, except for the municipal pumpers, was approved. Under the Alternative Plan, the County of Sonoma and Sonoma Water contributed a combined total of up to $240,000 annually for three years.
See the Press Release for additional information
For more information about treatment of domestic wells under SGMA, go to this State Water Quality Control Board link.
Materials related to the Groundwater Sustainability Fee, including public meetings and workshops
Draft Groundwater Users Registration Ordinance
- 4-12-19 Groundwater Users Registration Ordinance (clean version)
- 4-12-19 Groundwater Users Registration Ordinance (showing technical amendments)
- Jan 30 Community Meeting Agenda
- March 4 Community Meeting Agenda
- March 6 Community Meeting Agenda
- March 7 Community Meeting Agenda
- 2022 Fact Sheet (English)
- 2022 Fact Sheet (Spanish)
- Fee Fact Sheet (English)
- Fee Fact Sheet (Spanish)
Meeting Notes & Recordings
- January 30, 2019 Groundwater Sustainability Fee Community Meeting
– Meeting Notes
- March Groundwater Sustainability Fee Community Meetings
June 11, 2019 Rate Study Report