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Placeholder Image photo credit: Marc Albert/KRCB
Over pumping groundwater can reduce levels in creeks 


Digging a new well in certain parts of Sonoma County will soon get more complicated, and likely longer and more costly too.

It's due to changes in state law and an environmental group's lawsuit accusing the county of approving so much groundwater pumping that rivers and streams are drying up, damaging and eliminating habitat for protected species. 

Approved Tuesday, the new ordinance takes effect May 18, the same day a moratorium on well permit applications expires. The new rules aren't universal. They only affect areas near major rivers and streams and only in unincorporated areas.

In those places, an application will trigger a study on potential impacts to navigable waterways and how to reduce them. 

The road to the new rules generated lengthy discussion and some consternation. Supervisor James Gore chastised those wishing to further refine the proposal after an already lengthy process.

"I feel like we are just continuing to have the same conversation, which is 'I want to thank you' and everybody's saying that they thank you, but then they say they don't approve of the consensus that was reached at a working group level, and it's not good enough, and we shouldn't do this now because we should go back and create a more perfect system." Gore said. 

The item was approved with Supervisors Chris Coursey and Susan Gorin opposing.

Earlier, as deliberations appeared headed for stalemate, Supervisor Lynda Hopkins, expressing frustration, told colleagues it was time to move forward.

"I am not interested in re-litigating the issues that we discussed, extensively at the prior board meeting on this subject," Hopkins said. "And, I think it's important to acknowledge that this is not a perfect ordinance. This is a hell of a lot better than what we have right now, which is nothing."

Under the new rules, all new well approvals, no matter where they are, will come requirements for water efficient fixtures and landscaping. Measures will be stricter near navigable waterways. 

Water meters will be required on all new wells. Those using more than two acre-feet of water a year, must annually report their usage. Those using more than five acre-feet must also annually report the well's water level.

County officials say they don't expect much change from the typical month long wait for approval of a well permit. In areas near streams though, it will take additional time, likely months and cost more too. 

County staff have now been directed to develop a funding and implementation plan.

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