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State technician checks 'monitoring well' to gauge health of aquifer.
photo credit: California Department of Water Resources
Following hours of deliberations last week, Sonoma County supervisors decided to not issue any new permits for water well drilling, at least until next April.  
 
The moratorium comes as the California Coastkeeper Alliance continues legal action against the county, accusing officials of environmental mismanagement by allowing too many people to tap into aquifers for water.
  
The temporary prohibition has exemptions---any existing well that dries up or fails can still be replaced. Permit applications already submitted will still be processed.
  
But, those rules will soon change. County officials approved creation of a technical advisory commission to study, advise and draw up a draft permanent ordinance.
  
In lengthy discussion, supervisors discussed finer points, and how to achieve fairness while not burdening those needing wells with excessive fees and confusing regulations.
 
 James Gore chairs the board.
 
"If you're in a rural residential neighborhood and you apply for a well permit, versus if you're in a LIA, Land Intensive Agriculture area and you apply for a permit, and you get denied, either because a McMansion in an Ag area or you get denied because, maybe a commercial use in a residential area, I don't think we're honoring our code," Gore said.
  
Alexander Valley grower Dennis Murphy warned the board that dodging the Coastkeeper Alliance's lawsuit, if done improperly, would generate even more legal action.
 
"This opens the door to untold number of citizen lawsuits against both the county and farmers, he said."
 
The moratorium covers large areas of the county where rivers and streams are thought to replenish groundwater.
  
Drevet Hunt, representing California Coastkeeper, says additional areas should be included.
  
"We support that are included in this public trust review area, but we think there's other areas that ought to be added to it," he said.
 
A draft ordinance is expected in April. 
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