Rate and Fee Study 2022
The Sonoma Valley Groundwater Sustainability Agency was originally funded by its member agencies. In 2017, the GSA initiated a rate and fee study to explore other funding options. After receiving community input and initial feedback from the rate and fee consultants, the Board opted to complete the rate and fee study but to continue funding the GSA with member agency contributions through June 2022.
On July 25, 2022, the Board of Directors of the Sonoma Valley Groundwater Sustainability Agency approved an ordinance requiring the registration of groundwater use facilities, establishing a method for calculating groundwater use, and authorizing the adoption of a groundwater sustainability fee.
The groundwater sustainability fee will be assessed on all groundwater users in the Sonoma Valley. A contribution from the County of Sonoma will reduce the fee for non-municipal groundwater users to $40 per acre-foot of groundwater pumped annually for fiscal year 2022-23.
The fees will allow the GSA to apply for grants and will help pay for the first five years of implementing the recently approved Groundwater Sustainability Plan.
Sonoma Valley FAQS
Groundwater Sustainability Fees
How much will I pay in fees?
Your annual fee amount can be viewed by going to https://sonomavalleygroundwater.org/guide/. 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?
A two-year contribution from the County of Sonoma allows the fee level for non-municipal groundwater users to be the same in all basins: $40 per-acre-foot of groundwater pumped annually. Without the county contribution, people in Sonoma Valley would pay $73 per-acre-foot (or about $37 annually for a rural residential property owner). The $73 per-acre-foot fee level reflects an unsustainably low budget, so the GSA Board will continue to look at funding options to make up for the County contribution that will discontinue after two years.
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 by emailing the GSA at email@example.com.
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.
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.
The Sonoma Valley Groundwater Sustainability Agency held community meetings for the Rate and Fee Study in spring 2022. The purpose of the meetings was to describe Sustainable Groundwater Management Act (SGMA), the Groundwater Sustainability Plan findings, the need for funding and the proposed fee options and to receive community feedback.
Tuesday, March 29, 2022
Thursday, May 5, 2022
Fee Study Timeline
In fall 2021, the fee consultants, SCI Consulting and Larry Walker Associates, gathered data and looked at other GSAs across state for funding ideas and options. In January and February, the fee consultants met with the Board and Advisory Committee.
Public meetings were held in March and May 2022, along with further meetings with the Board and Advisory Committee where the options were narrowed and refined. On July 25 the Board of Directors of the Sonoma Valley Groundwater Sustainability Agency authorized the adoption of a groundwater sustainability fee.
2018 Fee Study
The GSA studied funding options, including a possible fee, in 2017-2018. At that time, the Board opted to continue funding the GSA through member agency contributions. The Board accepted the final 2018 fee study in December 2018.