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Taking collective responsibility for a watershed

Valley Forum

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By Fred Allebach

The Arroyo Seco watershed takes up approximately the eastern third of the lower Sonoma Valley. The Arroyo Seco channel was the original eastern boundary of the town of Sonoma. The whole of Eighth Street East, and up Castle Road, is the western boundary of this watershed. Agriculture easily takes up 60 percent of the land and water use. Buena Vista and Burndale are the two major unincorporated population centers.

Groundwater and seasonal surface flow are the only sources of water in the Arroyo Seco watershed. The watershed has potentially serious supply issues, including groundwater depletion (overdraft), dry wells, arsenic and saltwater intrusion. These issues are made worse by drought and increasing demand.

The Arroyo Seco area has no water agency or collective controls. Residential, agricultural and light industry users can pump as much groundwater as they want. In some areas, supply is not matching demand and groundwater is receding. The water table is 80 feet below sea level at Denmark and Burndale Road. The Eighth Street East and Napa Street intersection area is one of the highest deep-well depletion areas in the valley.

What can concerned landowners and citizens do? A forum to address Arroyo Seco water issues already exists in the Sonoma Valley Groundwater Management Program (SVGMP). This group has regular meetings and welcomes citizen input; see schedules and agendas online at scwa.ca.gov/svgroundwater/.

A critical issue for water conservation is getting diverse stakeholders to buy into common conservation efforts. As a regional community, and as a society, we need common buy-in because water, like air, is a common pool resource. The real trick will be to finesse individual views within an overall, agreed upon, public-good or team concept. The bottom line: a small watershed with limited supply in a drought-prone state, having no collective approach, is unworkable in the long run. It behooves Arroyo Seco stakeholders to try to work together.

Cultivating a comprehensive water view involves trying to understand the values of different users. Some of these include rural-residential, industrial and agricultural users. The local ecosystem is also a ‘user’ and a stakeholder; environmental water needs a place at the table.

How to bring these diverse interests into the same planning field? One obvious solution is to bring the Arroyo Seco watershed (or all of Sonoma Valley for that matter) into one water district. Make a conservation boundary where the first priority is establishing a healthy, sustainable watershed.

For all you citizens and stakeholders in the Arroyo Seco watershed, come to the SVGMP meetings, contact your representativeSusan.Gorin@sonoma-county.org), put your concerns and issues on the table.

The current drought represents a possible game changing moment. In the Arroyo Seco watershed, now is perfect time to step up, be counted and join a potential watershed team.

Fred Allebach is a resident of the Arroyo Seco watershed, and is a steward of the Sonoma Overlook Trail.