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New rules for well permits in Sonoma County proposed

The Board of Supervisors will consider new standards for well permits at their meeting Aug. 9 in response to California case law to protect rivers and other “public trust resources,” according to a July 11 press release.

The county will hold a public hearing on the proposed amendment to the county’s well ordinance, which would create new guidelines for Permit Sonoma’s evaluation of environmental impact to drill new or replacement groundwater wells.

The ordinance may effect approximately one-third of well permit applications sent to Permit Sonoma and new wells may be subject to hundreds of dollars in fees and new equipment based on the proposal.

The California case law igniting the public hearing comes from a 2018 ruling by the state Court of Appeal to mitigate the impact of wells on public trust resources in “navigable waterways,” such as the Russian River. This includes the habitat and wildlife these waterways support.

“Recent court decisions have altered the way counties must regulate permits for new water wells,” said Supervisor James Gore, chair of the Board of Supervisors in a news release.

“The law is now clear: The county must consider adverse impacts to public trust resources when permitting water wells. As a result, we must adopt new standards for well permits to ensure they do not harm resources that belong to everyone, including future generations,” Gore said.

The proposed changes would require Permit Sonoma to evaluate the environmental impact before approving a permit for a new well. This may require applicants to send in additional materials to support the location and use of the proposed well. The materials required by Permit Sonoma would vary based on the size and scope of the proposed well.

The implementation of the ordinance would create a new proposed fee of $1,392 to assess applications subject to public trust review. It also stipulates all new wells must have a meter by Jan. 1, 2023 as the county seeks to “track, analyze and model” groundwater in Sonoma County watersheds.

Replacement wells which serve existing domestic uses would be exempt from public trust review “as long as the wells are metered and extract a maximum of 2 acre-feet of water annually, or about 650,000 gallons,” the news release said, adding the average household uses a half-acre-foot of water per year.

The case, Environmental Law Foundation v. State Water Resources Control Board, focused on the permit process in Siskiyou County but the court’s decision set a precedent that applies to all counties in California.

To review the aspects of the proposed ordinance, go to bit.ly/3oiBzPT to learn more.

Contact Chase Hunter at chase.hunter@sonomanews.com and follow @Chase_HunterB on Twitter.

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