Note: Lana Cohen is a Report For America fellow covering the environment & natural resources for TMV & KZYX. Her position is funded by the Community Foundation of Mendocino, Report for America, & our readers. You can support Lana’s work here or email [email protected]. Contact Cohen at LCohen@mendovoice.com. TMV maintains editorial control.
The first Ukiah Valley Basin Groundwater Sustainability Agency public meeting will take place on February 23, from 5:30 p.m to 7:00 p.m. You can find out more information and register for the zoom here.
LITTLE RIVER, 2/12/21 — After a three month hiatus, the Ukiah Valley Groundwater Sustainability Agency’s board held their first meeting of 2021 yesterday, at which they approved new board members, adopted an updated communication plan, and formally gained access to two parcels of land where they will expand their groundwater monitoring network as they work towards their goal of fully regulating and managing groundwater usage by June 2022.
In the past, no government has regulated groundwater usage in Ukiah nor in California. However, a 2015 law, the Sustainable Groundwater Management Act (SGMA pronounced like the Greek letter Σ), changed that.
Groundwater, drawn from underground wells, has been historically treated as private property, mostly controlled by individuals, but as groundwater management begins to take hold in California, that will change. Soon, aquifers and well water across the state will be closely managed by local jurisdictions and the California Department of Water Resources (DWR).
The law requires local governments in areas with potential for groundwater overdraft to establish a plan to manage their groundwater sustainably for years. The DWR oversees the process.
In 2015 the DWR listed the Ukiah Valley’s groundwater basin as one of 94 basins in the state at risk of overdraft — meaning at risk of running out of groundwater. So, in 2017, the Ukiah Valley Groundwater Sustainability Agency (GSA) was created through a joint powers agreement between the Russian River Flood Control District, the Upper Russian River Water Agency, the City of Ukiah, and the County of Mendocino.
The agency is charged with creating a plan for managing the groundwater basin, which will define how much groundwater is used and by whom in and near Redwood Valley, Calpella, and Ukiah. For four years the Groundwater Agency has been gathering information, getting organized, talking to local politicians and trying to figure out what exactly the basin needs — now they’re expanding their monitoring network, answering questions about how much water can be used without overdrafting the basin, figuring out how climate change will impact the regions groundwater supply and preparing to begin regulation by June 2022.
How much land can be irrigated, how much water can be supplied to urban areas, how many people and communities can be supported, how can water availability be maximized given our limited supply and growing demand?
Those are just a few of the many questions the agency is working through right now.
Thursday’s meeting was packed full of information. If you want to watch the full meeting, which was a little over an hour and a half long, you can find it here, on Mendocino County’s YouTube page.
This was the first meeting with some new leadership in place. Mendocino Co. First District Supervisor Glenn McGourty took over for Carre Brown as the County’s representative on the board. After more than a decade as supervisor, Brown retired after completing her term in 2020. Amber Fisette, deputy director of transportation for the County, took over as the plan manager for the Agency from Sarah Duckett, who left the County, also around the new year.
The meeting started off with some housekeeping. Wine grower Zachary Robinson was re-appointed as the agricultural representative on the Groundwater Agency and James Green was appointed secretary. Appointing a new tribal representative was on the agenda for yesterday’s meeting, but the agency had not received a nomination for the seat as of yesterday and therefore tabled the appointment until next month’s meeting.
Andrew Bake, an AmeriCorps fellow working with the Mendocino Water Agency to implement the Ukiah Valley Basin’s groundwater sustainability plan, and Amber Fisette said they are in contact with tribal leader Javier Silva of the Sherwood Valley Band of Pomo Indians and representatives from the Redwood Valley Rancheria.
Next, the discussion turned to expanding the Agency’s groundwater monitoring network. The Groundwater Agency is still trying to nail down what the present status of the Ukiah Valleys two aquifers are.
“We’re working on developing a plan, and the first part of it is to understand: what are the boundaries, and the condition of the aquifers beneath Ukiah Valley,” said Supervisor McGourty, in an interview after yesterday’s meeting.
Once they have a better idea of the state of the aquifers, the Agency can move forward with deciding how to manage the resource.
Engineers from Larry David Associates, a consultancy that specializes in groundwater management and is working with the Agency, are gathering data from a growing network of wells to track the groundwater system. At yesterday’s meeting, the Groundwater Agency’s board approved two land agreements that will allow access to wells located on Mendocino Wine Company and Millview County Water District property.
“These wells will build out the Monitoring Network [sic] being incorporated into the GSP [Groundwater Sustainability Plan],” noted the meeting agenda.
The meeting also covered the Agency’s communication and engagement plan. The plan was created with the stated intent of promoting communication about and public engagement with the groundwater sustainability plan and had recently been updated to reflect the ongoing pandemic and need for continued virtual meetings. The communication plan, which was approved in yesterday’s meeting, can be found in the agenda packet for yesterday’s meeting. External communication methods suggested in the plan include public meetings, interviews, radio broadcasts, emails, and newsletters, among other things.
Slowly but surely, the Groundwater Agency is starting to understand what the current state of the aquifers underneath the Ukiah Valley are, a difficult task.
Larry David Associates engineer Laura Foglia explained during a zoom interview that there are still data gaps which she and her colleagues are trying to fill in. In order to do that they are expanding their monitoring network and using information they have gathered and a model they have created to run scenarios that can show different potential futures for the groundwater basin. Foglia said this is the meat of sustainability plan.
“We are planning, in the next couple of months, to have a big portfolio of scenarios that we can discuss with the board and with the [technical advisory committee] so we can start making decisions on which direction the plan is going to take.”
Even with all the data already gathered and compiled, models created, and scenarios almost ready to run, a lot is still up in the air, explained Foglia.
“One of the challenges is to understand the connection between surface water and groundwater and how groundwater management can really impact or improve the condition with the surface water-groundwater interaction. The second challenge is that the climate is changing so we are having different types of precipitation events with this big atmospheric river and it’s making a difference in how the basin is recharged just naturally and that’s a big component and if things keep going in this direction we will need to be creative in how to store water for use in the summertime.”