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The Op Ed article below orginially appeared in the Sonoma West Times & News.

SWiG: A shared resource

 

by David Noren and Jane Nielson

Assistant Sebastopol city Manager Sue Kelly's comments about Sebastopol's water supply (Dec. 23), call for amplification and correction. Groundwater is a shared resource - everybody drawing from the same groundwater basin or aquifer shares the same water supply, no matter where cities and counties draw or re-draw their boundaries or spheres of influence. Sebastopol's groundwater basin and aquifers, which provide its water, have never been well defined. As Kelly stated, the sparse available information suggests that the city's groundwater mostly comes from hills along Pleasant Hill Road, perhaps from the Atascadero Creek watershed, and even from the Laguna de Santa Rosa. Every homeowner, agriculture enterprise, business, municipality, or other public agency with a well in that area draws from the same water source as Sebastopol.

Obviously, many of those water-supply areas lie beyond city Limits - in some of them, private wells are now going dry. Kelly asserted "We have no evidence," for why those wells are going dry, and denied any city responsibility for the problem. But the Sebastopol Water Information Group (SWiG) has collected evidence from official well records and through monitoring of private wells, which shows that falling groundwater levels have dried up most of those wells. Comparison of the original water levels at the construction of Sebastopol's wells with recently-measured levels in Kelly's report clearly demonstrates the same extent of groundwater decline.

Kelly's view that the city has no responsibility whatsoever for the impacts of the city's wells on others who depend on that same aquifer is erroneous and dangerously shortsighted. In assessing the effect of future additional development on Sebastopol's water supply, Kelly also does not believe that Sebastopol should take into account the potential for city wells to lose groundwater to the Sonoma County Water Agency's (SCWA) three larger and more productive Laguna wells pumping an average of nearly 5 million gallons of water every day - equal to a 30,000-person city.

A year ago, SWiG discovered that Sebastopol never has obtained studies to either delineate its water supply, establish whether the water checkbook is in balance for the local area, or determine the extent to which the SCWA's Laguna wells affect Sebastopol's groundwater supply. The city of Rohnert Park also has denied its responsibility for groundwater declines outside its boundaries. To date, Rohnert Park has not prevailed against legal challenges from the surrounding residents, based on property owners' well-monitoring data. Sebastopol's present level of ignorance about its groundwater supply also is not legally defensible

But things are changing, and we are fortunate that Sebastopol is not Rohnert Park. The Sebastopol City Council made groundwater management their top goal for 2004, and invited SWiG's participation on a city water committee. SWiG hopes that Sebastopol's city Council members will not be content with incomplete groundwater supply information from their staff, and will make development and adoption of a groundwater management plan their top goal for 2005. Sebastopol should seek available state funding as soon as possible for groundwater studies to identify: the actual extent and sources of the city's groundwater supply, he potential for losing some of its groundwater to SCWA wells and the sustainable level of extraction from this shared resource. At the same time, the city needs to partner with representatives of all who draw water from the same resource as it develops and adopts a basin-wide Groundwater Management Plan, in 2005.

David Noren and Jane Nielson are members of SWiG, the Sebastopol Water Information Group.

 

 

 

 

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Sue Kelly's original memo (PDF 28k)

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EDITOR: Reading the recently published report by Sebastopol city engineer Sue Kelly, "Development Impacts on City Water Supply," I am struck by its omissions and inaccuracies. And how can this be when the community water information group, SWiG, (headed up by very professional scientists and in consultation with PhD hydrologist Steve Carle) has so painstakingly provided information and data that is being ignored? I have to wonder if development forces in and around Sebastopol have become so concerned about groundwater depletion problems, that have been brought up repeatedly by the public and documented by SWiG, that they encouraged the city to produce this report. It appears to be a whitewash job - an attempt to create an artificial controversy over groundwater supplies, even though the data collected by SWiG, as well as the evidence of many private well owners, just outside Sebastopol city limits, shows that the depletion of groundwater is a fact.

Not only that, Kelly blithely disavows any concern or responsibility toward the many wells coincidentally going dry just outside city limits.

I live on property just south/east of the city limits, historically a water rich area. The water table in our area has declined by 60 feet. Thus far we have gotten by with putting in a secondary water storage tank and pump, but several of our neighbors have had to put in new wells. We don't blame Sebastopol city wells entirely for the groundwater depletion. However, before considering new development and increased water usage, we do expect the city to work with community groups like SWiG to create a groundwater management program that includes conservation and a more objective and scientifically based study of our mutual groundwater resource. And we expect the city to acknowledge its impact on its neighbors.

- Holly Downing, Sebastopol