UKIAH, CA, 7/12/22 – After a long back-and-forth on Tuesday afternoon, all but one Mendocino County supervisor approved a draft of a water hauling ordinance created by concerned community members.
The ordinance draft will move on to the planning commission for review, despite lingering questions around how to fund it. Board Chair Ted Williams voted against the ordinance because of those concerns.
The ordinance’s purpose is to protect the county’s groundwater resources by regulating the sale and transport of groundwater from private wells. Supervisors John Haschak and Glenn McGourty, who represent the 3rd and 1st districts respectively, sponsored the document and sat on a committee of residents from Laytonville, Redwood Valley, Covelo, Albion, and other towns in the county to formulate the document.
Under the proposed ordinance, the county would calculate a well’s maximum flow rate for extraction that would avoid depleting more than 10% of water from neighboring wells, or 10% of static water in the aquifer if there are no other nearby wells. The county would monitor well use according to this flow rate, to ensure that water extracted for transport and sale would not dramatically decrease the overall water available in a given aquifer.
It would require hiring a county hydrologist and would likely mean associated administrative costs, something Williams fears would put more financial burden on the county.
But supporters of the ordinance think it’s a risk worth taking to protect water for individuals whose wells may get depleted by neighbors who are selling and transporting water from the same aquifer.
“Impacts from rampant over-pumping have resulted in neighboring wells or wells in the vicinity to go dry in Round Valley,” one of the presenters said during the Tuesday meeting. “These wells are outside of a municipal water district, making residents very vulnerable to health and safety impacts.”
Groundwater is water stored underground, in soil and sediment; it can take anywhere from hours to years to recharge when it’s been depleted, and has been pumped with little regulation in California for decades. That began to change in 2014, with the passage of the Sustainable Groundwater Management Act. At the time, Governor Jerry Brown emphasized that “groundwater management in California is best accomplished locally,” and charged local agencies with developing and implementing groundwater sustainability plans within 20 years.
Supervisor Dan Gjerde, who represents the 4th District, suggested allocating money from the 2021 Pacific Gas and Electric Disaster Settlement Fund to pay for the ordinance or looking for state-funded grants to implement a pilot program.
However, Williams expressed concern about the plan’s capacity to endure beyond its first year, given that Mendocino County has “more mandates than we have dollars.”
“Another board will get stuck with a half-million-dollar a year project that it can’t afford,” he said.
In the vote, supervisors Maureen Mullheren and McGourty said they shared those concerns prior to voting to pass the ordinance on to the planning commission.
Regulating water delivery to a variety of customers is a county-wide issue, but Williams also expressed reservations about inadvertently limiting water access for drought-stricken residents. Particularly on the coast, people sometimes need to outsource water for their homes and businesses. Because the destination of the extracted water isn’t stipulated in the ordinance, “I don’t want residents in that [situation] to hear they can’t order a water truck because the county has regulated the water providers out of business,” he said. Gjerde suggested that a hydrologist could work on crafting exemptions for those cases.
While the ordinance faces a planning commission review, the board agreed to identify funding sources for the project. It will also spend that time determining how much implementing the ordinance will cost the county.
“I think we could easily line up the funding before it gets back to the board,” Gjerde said.
The ordinance also stipulates needed permissions for water sellers, including a minor use permit and business license from the county specifying any proposed source wells. Water transporters will also need a business license. Violation, the ordinance stipulates, could result in loss of license, a Class A misdemeanor, and a maximum fine of $25,000. Further, any citizen or organization can begin civil action against those perceived to be violating the ordinance.