April showers bring May flowers – and they also bring some good news on the water front. In early April, Governor Brown declared the end to California’s four-year drought. The governor’s announcement wasn’t a surprise to many of us: Sonoma County has received more rainfall this water year than anytime in recorded history.
The prolonged drought had a dramatic impact on water demands. Thanks to great conservation efforts by people throughout the county, water deliveries decreased by 27 percent since 2013-14 and caused a sharp decline in water sales. The Sonoma County Water Agency Board of Directors (I am a director on the board) anticipated the declining deliveries and revenues and took proactive steps to smooth rate increases, including prioritizing projects, using a fund balance accumulated in years leading up to the drought, spreading the cost of large projects over a number of years, and using bonds and grants to supplement project costs.
As a result, while water agencies throughout the state were annually increasing rates by double-digits, in Sonoma County, we were able to hold wholesale water rates increases at 5-6 percent.
While the drought is over, it could take years for groundwater basins to recover. One of the key issues in southern Sonoma Valley, in particular, is increased salinization to groundwater wells from intruding San Pablo Bay water. In essence, as people pump more water to supply homes, farms and businesses, groundwater levels decline and saline Bay water fills the void.
The bad news: Saltwater intrusion could become worse as a result of sea level rise. Increased efforts to study and plan for sea level rise are underway in the San Francisco Bay.
Fortunately, in Sonoma Valley, there are more than 10 years of studies and work by a citizen’s basin advisory panel on the area’s groundwater problems. The activities of this panel will help inform the soon-to-be formed Sonoma Valley Groundwater Sustainability Agency (GSA). This agency, which is scheduled to meet for the first time on Thursday, June 8, at Vintage House in Sonoma, will be responsible for bringing Sonoma Valley’s groundwater into sustainability.
While there are many steps to the process, the bottom line is that by 2042, Sonoma Valley’s groundwater basin must be taking in as much water as people are pumping out. And, water quality issues, including saline intrusion, must be addressed. Strategies will likely include projects, such as groundwater recharge, increased use of recycled water, and water conservation. Other strategies could include regulations on wells. This is a big responsibility, and I’m happy to announce that I’ve been appointed to serve as Sonoma County’s representative to the GSA board.
I have also been appointed to the San Francisco Bay Restoration Authority. The Restoration Authority’s purpose is to raise and allocate local resources for the restoration, enhancement, protection, and enjoyment of wetlands and wildlife habitat in San Francisco Bay and along its shoreline, and associated flood management and public access infrastructure. Restoration of the Bay’s shoreline will be key to adapting to sea level rise and its associated flooding and salt water intrusion impacts.