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, as described below) which will continue through 2022, when a Groundwater Sustainability Plan (GSP) required by the State will be completed and submitted to the Department of Water Resources (DWR) for review.

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) are 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 2022 ($240,000/year) is provided through annual contributions from the County of Sonoma and Sonoma Water.

Details on how the Groundwater Sustainability Fee is calculated is described below, and 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 

Background:

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 is 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 include 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

As described above, the average annual amount of funding needed to operate the GSA in compliance with SGMA is $337,000. Dividing the annual cost of operating the GSA by the estimated annual groundwater extraction from the Santa Rosa Plain basin (17,000 acre-feet) equals a rate of $19.90 per acre foot. This rate is half of the $40 per acre foot rate that the state established it would charge groundwater users in the Santa Rosa Plain if the state were to intervene.

With an annual per acre foot rate of $19.90 per acre foot multiplied by the actual and estimated use factors, the following fee structure was developed:

  • Rural residential (de mimimis) groundwater users would pay $9.95 per year
  • Large groundwater users (municipal, golf courses, etc.) would pay $19.90 per acre foot of water pumped annually
  • Urban Supplemental Irrigation Wells owners would pay $1.99 per year
  • Agricultural users would pay $19.90 per acre foot multiplied by the number of irrigated acres multiplied by a crop-specific coefficient. For example, a vineyard (crop coefficient of 0.6 acre feet/year) with 100 acres of irrigated vines (60 AFY) would pay $1,194 annually.

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 contribute a combined total of up to $240,000 annually for three years.

See the Press Release  for additional information

FAQs

How long will the GSA funding structure be in place?

The GSA’s funding structure described above will be in place through at least 2022, at which time the continued funding of the GSA and its work to implement the completed GSP will be reassessed by the GSA Board.

Will the rates be raised over time?

The rate of $19.90 as approved, will not be raised through at least June 30, 2022. A new public process to consider funding options for the GSA after July 1, 2022 will be initiated in 2021.

De minimis groundwater users

SGMA requires “regulation” of de minimis groundwater users (those who pump two acre-feet, or less, annually and who don’t use water for commercial purposes) before they can be charged a fee. Since de minimis groundwater users account for approximately 25% of the total groundwater extraction in the Santa Rosa Plain basin, the GSA developed a Groundwater User Registration Program to engage the Santa Rosa Plain groundwater users to help improve the accuracy and completeness of the groundwater data currently maintained by the GSA.

The information received will inform the Santa Rosa Plain GSA about groundwater use for the owner’s parcel and the overall groundwater use in that area. New information will be confidential and private, for use only for the purposes of sustainable groundwater management and will not be disclosed, unless required by law. The Groundwater User Registration Program is planned to be launched in Summer 2020. A link to the Groundwater User Registration Program is found here.

Residents and businesses in areas without a public water system and farmers who irrigate crops will be assumed to have a well and will receive a mailer in the summer of 2020 letting them know that their parcel has been determined to be in the Santa Rosa Plain basin.  To help implement the groundwater sustainability fee and to gain a better understanding of the number of wells in the basin, the GSA encourages parcel owners in the basin to participate in the Groundwater User Registration Program to view, correct, or confirm the data the GSA has assumed for the property.

Will wells be metered?

The law (SGMA) prohibits the GSA from requiring meters on ‘de minimis’ wells (wells that are used for homes, gardens and landscaping, but not for commercial purposes) and that use less than 2-acre feet of water a year. Rural residential wells are considered ‘de minimis‘ — and the GSA is PROHIBITED from metering these wells.

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

Ordinance No. 19-01 

Ordinance No. 19-02

Draft Groundwater Users Registration Ordinance

Agendas

Materials

Presentations

Meeting Notes & Recordings

June 11, 2019 Rate Study Report