707-769-2008   *  SONOMA COUNTY   *   CA   *  94951


People hardly ever think about a "water agency" because when people turn on the tap, water comes out. That's about it. We rarely even wonder where our water comes from let alone who is regulating and managing it. And you know what? Water agencies like this anonymity just fine.

Well, if you only knew . . . .




Back in 2001, Janet Wells wrote a fascinating article for the Bohemian called "Ripple Effect: Welcome to the byzantine world of north bay water politics". This article is a brilliant introduction to the unsupervised, nearly omnipotent power of the SCWA.

Wells says that the Sonoma County Water Agency (SCWA) operates with virtually no oversight or public scrutiny. For example, she states, " Interestingly, in 1961--the year before the Warm Springs Dam project was approved by Congress--the water agency's board won the right to authorize revenue bonds in any amount without a vote of the people, giving the agency an avenue for financing projects without having to kowtow to public approval." This is a remarkable behind-the-scenes ability.

Amazingly, Sonoma County's Board of Supervisors also sit as the Board of Directors of the Sonoma County Water Agency. I know. It sounds impossible, but it's true. This incestuous relationship means that growth, urban sprawl, water resources, land use, and open space are decided by five people who never have to consult the public. Oh yes, the Board of Supervisors are also the Board of the Open Space District.

Sonoma County's cities are trapped in a vicious circle of creating urban sprawl to get out of debt, but these massive building projects create further debt because cities become over-extended and are forced to provide more services to larger populations. City authorities then ramp up for yet more development projects that create more urban sprawl hoping to get out of the last round of debt, and so on ad nauseam. Obviously, developers, contractors and land speculators encourage all this irresponsible sprawl.

Unfortunately, the only direction that cities can possibly build is out and inevitably urban sprawl destroys open space and agricultural land. By covering up groundwater recharge lands and then populating this land with enormous numbers of water consumers, cities also deplete groundwater resources.

Urban sprawl requires water, lots of it.The vast shopping malls and airport-hanger sized Home Depots and Costcos cannot exist without vast amounts of water. The people who move into vast housing developments use vast amounts of water too. But the asphalt driveways and parking lots prevent winter rains from filling up the underground reserves.

So you might wonder, why does all the building continue? With studies revealing water overdrafts, groundwater depletion and numerous dry wells across Sonoma County, you might think that authorities would demand that building be balanced with water availability. Everything hinges on the availability of water. Well, this is exactly why water has remained such a "secret" and why you probably have never heard of the water agency. All the water in reservoirs, in rivers and under the ground is earmarked for more growth. That's why they tell you to conserve water. That's why we have low-flow toilets; everything is geared to created more urban sprawl.

Read Janet Wells' article "Ripple Effect".



Many useful links in the library. Click above.

O.W.L. Foundation


Support your O.W.L. Foundation

Various water-related links

Ripple Effect

Sonoma County Water Agency

Friends of the Eel River

Ca Department of Water Resources

Water Education Foundation

NRDC on groundwater pollution