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Town Hall Coalition in the News
County likely to expand inquiry into drilling wells long-awaited report on water issues to be presented to Board of Supervisors today
Matt Weiser
(Press Democrat, 6/12/01)

More scrutiny of water wells in Sonoma County may follow today's Board of Supervisors meeting, where a long-awaited study on ground water demand will be discussed.

The report states, in short, that county records on ground water and well-drilling are woefully inadequate and outdated, and it recommends more fact-gathering before any new policies are adopted.
The report by consultant Kleinfelder Inc. of Santa Rosa was prompted by an increase in well drilling to support the county's growing wine industry. The Board of Supervisors approved the $33,000 study in October after hearing from many rural residents that the pace of drilling was threatening their water supplies.

The county's planning staff will recommend that the board demand much more information from people who drill wells, and that it study ground water demand in one of five areas in the county where water is already scarce. In these spots, like in most of unincorporated Sonoma County, residents rely on wells for both domestic and agricultural water.

The five water-scarce areas named in the report are the Joy Road area near Occidental, west Dry Creek near Healdsburg, Mark West Springs/Rincon Valley, Bennett Valley, and Kenwood/Glen Ellen. These five areas were identified as facing the most risk of diminished ground water because of the high degree of construction activity and well drilling.

Carl Wahl, a Joy Road resident who has been gathering information about water use in his area, praised the report for its evenhandedness. But he urged the Board of Supervisors to do more.

Wahl said at least 27 homes in his area already have problems with ground water supply and quality, and many residents have been forced to haul water by truck on a regular basis to meet their needs. Yet the county continues to allow new wells in the area because it has no legal authority to forbid them.

Wahl's own well has declined in productivity by 40 percent in the past 12 years, he said. He knows one property owner who has drilled four wells in an effort to find a total of 1 gallon per minute of water output.

``It's a very beautiful area, but everything is telling me things are turning really bad, really quick,'' Wahl said.

County officials familiar with the report could not be reached for comment Monday.

Kleinfelder found that the county lacks information on ground water quantity and quality. Even data on well location are inadequate, as records include only property addresses, which do not show proximity to other wells, septic systems or creeks. The county also has no records on actual water use, and the consultant notes that the county does not even have a geologist or hydrologist on staff to review well applications.

The staff recommendation calls for the county to require more information from well applicants, including precise well location and water-quality data, along with more rigorous pumping tests and an explanation from the landowner of why a well is needed.

Wahl said the county, at a minimum, should also adopt rules that would allow drilling permits to be rejected in water-scarce areas. He also wants the Board of Supervisors to allocate money so all five water-scarce areas can be studied.

``In some of these water-scarce areas, there should be a building moratorium until the ground water availability is understood,'' added Stephen Fuller-Rowell, chairman of a water committee for the Town Hall Coalition, a west county environmental group.

The report will be discussed during the regular portion of the board's meeting, which begins at 8:30 a.m. at 575 Administration Drive in Santa Rosa.

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Town Hall Coalition
6741 Sebastopol Ave. Ste. 140 Sebastopol California 95472
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