man standing outdoors next to a well and meter wearing a black jacket and black trousersDavid Noren knows what it’s like to depend on groundwater. He grew up in Bennett Valley in a home with a well and has for the last 30 years lived in his Sebastopol home that also draws its water from the Santa Rosa Plain. He also works in water, as a manager of environmental services at EBA Engineering where one of his many duties involves assessment of water quality. Over the years he has developed a keen perspective on groundwater as a shared community resource which demands our collective care and management. And he’s got some practical ways to make that happen.

Depending on well water is not uncommon in Sonoma County, where there are thousands of wells, with 5,700 of those wells belonging to rural property owners. In Sebastopol, the only water available to residents and businesses is groundwater. Climate change weather patterns, which can swing unpredictably from very dry to very wet annually, have made some rural residents anxious about the conditions of their water quality and supply. So back in 2012, Noren got together with some of his neighbors to organize the Sebastopol Water Information Group, or SWIG.

Founded on the idea that tracking accurate information is key to groundwater management, SWIG helps neighbors measure their groundwater twice a year, and then record that information in a spreadsheet. The data can be used to track seasonal and annual changes in groundwater levels and to see if worrisome trends are developing. Noren recommends that property owners measure both the groundwater level every six months as well as use a meter to measure ongoing water usage. Now with 10 years of information available, Noren says, “The sheer fact that we have data to inform us means that we can then make better decisions going forward. I found that sharing this information with my neighbors has gotten them very interested in knowing more about the water they depend on.”

close up of the face of a water meter dialHe says organizing a group like SWIG is relatively simple and doesn’t require too much time or money. “I think we need to protect, maintain and restore our groundwater resources,” Noren explained. “That’s why I want to be involved and why I volunteer my time, and I also encourage other communities to do it as well.”

Lately, he has been meeting with people back in his father’s neighborhood in Bennett Valley to help them get started. He explains that the key elements to getting started are to first get a common understanding of groundwater as a shared community resource. Second, is to be proactive, advocating for people to participate and volunteering to help get the measurements taken. And the last step involves management; looking at the individual and collected data to best protect and conserve this essential resource that everyone needs.
David Noren is a member of the Santa Rosa Plain GSA Advisory Committee representing rural residential well owners. He has served as an appointed member of the North Coast Regional Water Quality Control Board .