By John Ramos

SANTA ROSA (KPIX 5) – Property owners in rural Sonoma County area will have to pay for the water they take from underground wells under a mandate from the state.

Most of the people who live or farm on what’s known as the Santa Rosa Plain get all their water from wells, tapping into a huge underground river.  But the State says that’s a public resource and required the formation of the Santa Rosa Plain Groundwater Sustainability Agency whose job it is to make well users pay for their water.  The agency met in Santa Rosa Thursday afternoon to discuss what those fees should look like.

“I know members of the public hate it…I got that, we ALL got that.” agency director, Shirlee Zane, told the crowd of angry homeowners.  “This is an order that’s coming down from the state…that’s what our focus should be.”

The current proposal would charge about $25 per acre foot of water.  And, since most wells are unmetered, homeowners are assumed to use about half an acre foot…and would be charged only about $10 per year.  But the residents believe that’s just the beginning and the state will begin mandating higher and higher fees.

“The state is going to have a moving target ad nauseam going forward on each and every one single of you,” Sonoma County resident Deborah Taveras told the board, “and each and every single one of us!”

“The way they’re doing it is a little bit like cooking a frog.” said Paul Heck, a Sonoma County real estate agent.  “They’re starting off with a small low temperature and bringing it up to a high boil.  And everybody kind of gets used to the idea and what happens is they take it for granted.”

But the agency says, if they drag their feet on setting fees, the state can intervene and start charging homeowners $100 instead of just $10.

“I want to make sure that we don’t run into a situation where the State says, we don’t know what you guys are doing so we’re just going to come in and take over, and then it could cost you 10 times as much,” director Gina Belforte told the crowd.

Right now, the agency is basing its fee structure on simply paying for the cost of the agency itself…about $337,000 a year.  But they admit that number will go higher as it begins to implement state requirements, such as registering every well in the groundwater basin.

The agency says it will take the residents’ concerns into account and create a second, alternative plan that they will also consider when they vote in June.  Whichever plan is approved will last for 3 years and go into effect on July 1, 2019.

 

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