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SWiG/City of Sebastopol Community Water Forum


The Bennett Valley Water Forum


Why the Community Water Forum in Sebastopol was so important.


On March 30, 2004, the City of Sebastopol and the Sebastopol Water Information Group (SWiG) presented a host of speakers to address the serious water crisis. Sonoma County is suffering massive depletion of underground water reserves. Many areas are now considered "water scarce". Some places have seen permanent declines of 150 feet within only the last 25 years.

Sonoma County is running out of water.

However, plans for the very near future call for enormous increases in groundwater pumping. This increased pumping will be from aquifers that are already either in demonstrable overdraft or currently at risk of becoming over drafted."Overdraft", of course, is when more water comes out of the ground than goes back in (via rainfall or underground seepage from rivers).

Geologist Jane Neilson spoke about the formation under our feet. Jane points out that Sebastopol area may have good "recharge" land on top of its geology, but underneath there is no place to store large amounts of water.

David Noren, chairman of SWiG, showed the serious condition around Cooper Road. Many wells in the Cooper Road area have either gone dry or have had to lower pump depths. Worse, within a mile of the City limits of Sebastopol, the Sonoma County Water Agency (SCWA) operates three so-called "emergency" wells. SCWA has never announced an emergency. Nevertheless, these wells extract three times the amount of water than all of Sebastopol's municipal wells combined. The effect, Noren explains, is like having a "phantom" city of 30,000 souls parked right out in your front yard---invisible, but consuming enormous amounts of water from the same bowl.

Carl Hauge (pron. "ho-gee") is the senior geohydrologist at the Department of Water Resources (DWR) in Sacramento. There are only two people between Hauge and the Governor. Hauge explains the principals of water, the interconnectedness of "surface" and "ground" water, and the Byzantine legal fictions surrounding water issues that are unique to California. Hauge's information-packed talk explains how Sonoma County can go about starting a Groundwater Management Plan---a process that would guarantee water sustainability for the future.

Steve Carle is a geohydrologist at Lawrence Livermore Lab, but he spoke as a fifth-generation Penngrove landowner who is concerned about Sonoma County's vanishing water supplies. Carle, who is also one of O.W.L. Foundation's science advisors, explained how Rohnert Park has created a frightening "cone of depression" in its underlying aquifer. This means that there is a huge hole in the water table, in this case, 150 feet deep. This is a permanent hole at current pumping rates. When all of Rohnert Park's municipal wells are pumping, the water table actually dives a breath-taking 400 feet!

Carle explained that SCWA has already done studies to increase the the pumping quantities of the three "emergency" wells outside Sebastopol. There are possible plans to install more of these wells. If the pumping near Sebastopol increases at these projected rates, another huge cone of depression could be created under Sebastopol too.

Worse, Santa Rosa has stated in its Urban Water Management Plan that current projected growth rates will require that the City to resume groundwater pumping. This possibility could create yet a third huge cone of depression in the Santa Rosa plain.

The O.W.L. Foundation's chief legal advisor, Ed Casey, finished the Forum by presenting two choices for the County: The "Do Nothing Approach" and the "Groundwater Management Plan" approach. Casey explains what has happened to communities that have ignored their groundwater troubles and what has happened to other communities who planned ahead.

This forum was the first substantive discussion of the serious water problem in the County and of a groundwater management plan. The DVD contains a wealth of frightening information on Sonoma County's water crisis and offers a positive, rational approach to solving it.


Many useful links in the library. Click above.

Groundwater links

DVDs! only $15!

You can get VHS tape too!

There is no better way to get an education in Sonoma County water issues, politics and the solutions to our water problem than by watching these videos.

O.W.L. Foundation


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From the Bennett Valley Voice,

May 2004

On Wednesday evening, 4/21/04, Bennett Valley Homeowner's Association sponsored the Groundwater Forum, held at the Bennett Valley Grange. After attending the City of Sebastopol Groundwater Forum, on 3/30/04, we were able to add to our list of excellent panelists. . . Valerie Brown, County Supervisor, Pete Parkinson and Dwayne Starnes, Director and Deputy Director, Sonoma County PRMD, Jay Jasperse, Deputy Chief Engineer, Sonoma County Water Agency (SCWA).

[also presenting were] Carl Hauge, Chief Hydrogeologist, California Dept. of Water Resources (DWR), Jane Nielson, Ph.D., Geologist, retired from U. S. Geological Survey (USGS), and Steve Carle, Ph.D., Hydrologist, Lawrence Livermore Lab. Somewhere between 200 and 300 people attended. It was an excellent meeting with a tremendous amount of information presented on groundwater.

Bennett Valley Geology and Groundwater (Excerpts from write-up prepared for the Bennett Valley Groundwater Forum on 4/21/04, by Jane Nielson, Ph.D., Geologist, Sebastopol Water Information Group, SWiG)

“ The history of Bennett Valley settlement suggests that its water-scarce character has been well known for at least a quarter of a century…A broadscale study of Sonoma County groundwater resources was carried out by the State Department of Water Resources in the 1970’s and early 1980’s, in which the Bennett Valley area was classified as either lacking water supplies, or as having “contiguous or detached groundwater areas outside of boundaries of ground water basins.”

Water that infiltrates below the surface may eventually reach the top of a water-saturated subsurface groundwater zone, called the water table. Rocks that store and transmit groundwater are called aquifers. The process of adding infiltrated water to groundwater is called recharge.
Recharge does not happen everywhere. …Groundwater will move toward any area of lower pressure, discharging to the surface at a spring, steam, pond, or lake. It will also move toward water table depressions, caused by pumping wells…The amount of fresh water available for use depends on:

* The amount of annual rainfall

* The extent of recharge area that can collect the water so that it doesn’t simply run off…

* The capacity (and ability) of a rock to transmit water to wells, which depends on both the texture and structure of the rock or soil.

The locations of recharge areas and aquifers are determined by the geology: if soils and rocks exposed at or near the surface cannot absorb and hold water, and also transmit water, they cannot recharge underlying aquifers.

(“Overdraft is when the amount of groundwater being extracted is greater than the amount of recharge…” Edward J. Casey, Chief Water Resource Attorney, Weston Benshoof Law Firm)

Bennett Valley is underlain by (rocks, mainly impermeable, called) Sonoma Volcanics and Petaluma Formation. Most of its recharge comes from thin… (surface) sedimentary units, including stream sediments and slope deposits eroded off the mountainsides. Fragmental volcanic rocks may occur at the surface, but there’s no known connection between such exposures and deeper rocks with aquifer characteristics. If any recharge comes through the volcanic rocks, it’s strictly luck.

The 2003 Kleinfelder report showed that most Bennett Valley well owners with water problems had wells drilled into the Petaluma Formation, in the central and southern part of the area.


Recent wells as much as 1,200 feet deep have been reported on the southern and western sides of the valley. The landowner indicated several property owners in this same area have drilled multiple wells to depths greater than 700 feet.
A 700-ft. dry hole was drilled for a home site on the Sonoma Mountain Road corridor. That property owner has resorted to capturing stream flow from the creek (which is then) stored in cisterns for use.
Community supply wells for the Woodside Subdivision, Hidden Acres, and Bennett Ridge residential developments, and agricultural irrigation wells, are likely to be deep and pump a lot more water than domestic wells. Regarding agricultural wells, when the Matanzas Creek Winery well, located in the heart of Bennett Valley and adjacent to the north side of the Woodside Subdivision, began irrigating vineyards in the 1980’s, Woodside community-supply wells lost pressure (probably in summer, the major stress time for groundwater supplies in our climate). Subsequently the Winery agreed to irrigate at night. Not all competitive water supply issues can be settled so easily.