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Some Background
The Basic Mission

The people behind the O.W.L Foundation are Sonoma County residents who first learned of declining groundwater supplies and the proposed urbanization of state-identified groundwater recharge lands in the lawsuit brought against the City of Rohnert Park in August 2000. The lawsuit successfully blocked proposed sprawl in the Penngrove area, and the City of Rohnert Park agreed to reduce groundwater reliance in the future.

It’s not enough!

The water table has dropped as much as 150 feet in the Southern region of the Santa Rosa Plain Groundwater Basin in the last 25 years. The region continues to be overdrafted. Continued growth without a groundwater management plan will only exacerbate the problem. Future water policies are now being developed by the County that will determine whether or not your water supply remains sustainable.

The O.W.L. Foundation Board of Directors has retained the legal services of a Los Angeles based firm that specializes in the issues of water law and land use. Draft water policies created by the Citizens Advisory Committee for the Sonoma County General Plan Update are inadequate. The O.W.L. Foundation has directed the firm to participate in the development of water resource policies now being formulated.

Many of the cities here in Sonoma County and North Marin are poised to implement their new 20-year General Plans—all of which call for significant growth in housing and commercial development.

The Foundation has taken the position that existing water-scarce areas of the County as well as water-rich areas that are being critically overdrafted must first be protected prior to new development. This can only be accomplished through tough General Plan policies and implementation of a groundwater management plan.


What started the O.W.L. Foundation?

People’s wells ran dry.

The O.W.L. Foundation was created to preserve, even restore, Sonoma County’s rapidly dwindling groundwater reserves. Unresponsive local government provided no remedy to this dire situation. Indeed, government bodies have permitted developers to pave over land identified as prime groundwater recharge areas. The pavement prevents rain from refilling, or recharging, groundwater reservoirs. Worse, these areas, once paved, are then populated with burgeoning water-consuming businesses and residences, which reduce the water table further. Such irresponsible growth is specifically forbidden by state law, which requires sustainable groundwater reserves and links proven water availability with any future building.

Rohnert Park’s stated plan is to build 4,500 houses and five million square feet of commercial space on prime groundwater recharge land. The combination of paving land identified by the State of California as prime groundwater recharge areas and then creating extra demand by populating this land with water-consumers would seriously jeopardize the underlying aquifer.

Considerable work remains to ensure that groundwater reserves are not destroyed further and that Sonoma County and the city governments within it apply and enforce sustainable groundwater plans.

Why is the organization needed?

The O.W.L. Foundation would not be needed if local governments enforced existing laws and embraced groundwater sustainability as an overriding goal. Unfortunately, financially strapped cities seek relief through physical expansion (in order to increase a tax base and to increase revenues through permits); such expansion necessarily targets rural areas. Subsequent development often prevents groundwater recharge and the addition of water consumers creates increased water demand. This double damage impinges on water supplies to a catastrophic degree.

What is the Organization’s Mission?

The O.W.L. Foundation’s mission is to preserve various endangered resources in all of Sonoma County, not just the southern sector. The immediate and fundamental goal is to ensure that Sonoma County implements a sustainable groundwater management plan.

The current groundwater crisis affects the preponderance of unincorporated county land. The awareness of the crisis began in Penngrove because John King and Steven Carle, Ph.D., both fifth-generation Penngrovians, recognized a serious groundwater overdraft documented in Rohnert Park’s own Environmental Impact Report (EIR). But it is now clear that groundwater depletion is happening on a vast scale and extends countywide.

The O.W.L. Foundation’s comprehensive perspective of Sonoma County’s resources includes reservation of open space, protection of water resources, and wise land use policy.

Accomplishments to Date

The O.W.L. Foundation carries on Penngrove's grass-roots activism by springboarding off the Penngrove Lawsuit Settlement Agreement by John King and the South County Resource Preservation Committee v. the City of Rohnert Park. The Settlement Agreement forced Rohnert Park to remove 170 acres of Ag-extensive Penngrove land from its sphere of influence and reduce groundwater pumping as a condition for new development. However, the success of the Penngrove lawsuit by no means permanently stops continual pressure to expand urban sprawl at the expense of rural communities like Penngrove.

Since the Penngrove lawsuit, O.W.L. supporters have accomplished the following:

(1) Attended, spoken, and provided written comment at every Citizen's Advisory Committee meeting for the Water Resources Element of the Sonoma County General Plan Update 2020.

(2) Secured legal counsel from a highly-respected Los Angeles-based law firm specializing in water resources. With help from counsel and key members of the Citizens Advisory Committee, we were able to insert tougher language into the existing Water Resources Element—an important step toward crafting new water policy.

(3) Assembled a massive amount of information documenting the overdraft of groundwater resources in Sonoma County and put that information on record with the County.

(4) Conducted well surveys in Penngrove.

(5) Developed a highly-informative website, www.penngrove.info, that focuses on issues of open space, water resources, and land use in Penngrove and the rest of Sonoma County.

(6) Ensured that concerns over groundwater usage and protection of recharge areas were considered by the County in the controversial "Religious-Event Center Project" at Petaluma Hill Road and Roberts Road.