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Why the Community Water Forum in Sebastopol was so important.

Buy the DVD! It's only $15!


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.




Sebastopol’s municipal wells, all of them, pump about 1.4 million gallons a day. The Sonoma County Water Agency (SCWA) operates three so-called “emergency” wells within a mile of the city. These three wells alone pump 5.4 million gallons a day. In effect, Sebastopol has a phantom city of 30,000 water consumers living in its front yard. SCWA sells this water to numerous cities connected to its aqueduct which stretches all the way to Marin County. In fact, approximately 28% of all Sonoma County Water Agency water is sold to Marin.




Some links


City of Sebastopol

Department of Water Resources

Weston Benshoof Rochefort Rubalcava MacCuish LLP





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