Monica Huettl has writing chops and a passion for telling the stories of Redwood Valley. Huettl recognizes the importance of municipal coverage taking on the task of attending Redwood Valley Municipal Advisory Meetings and has since broadened out to cover many aspects of inland Mendocino County’s water issues.
On Tuesday evening well owners and well drillers gathered at Barra of Mendocino Winery to hear from Eric Cadaret of West Yost Associates, General Manager of the UVBGSA, and Marlayna Duley of the County Environmental Health Department. Glenn McGourty, District One Supervisor and Member of the Board of Directors of the UVBGSA, was also in attendance. This was the first workshop on changes in well-permitting procedures under Executive Order N-7-22 signed by Governor Gavin Newsom on March 28, 2022. The purpose of the workshop was to gather facts and share information.
Paragraphs 9.a and 9.b of the Order will change the well permitting process and were the topic of the workshop. The new rules will not apply to wells that produce less than two acre-feet per year for individual domestic users, and wells that provide groundwater to public supply systems.
Paragraph 9.a says that all permits for new wells or alterations of existing wells that pump more than two acre-feet per year, that are within a medium or high-priority groundwater sustainability basin will be subject to review by that basin’s groundwater sustainability agency. Much of inland Mendocino County sits on top of the Ukiah Valley Groundwater basin, a medium priority basin, which runs from the north part of Redwood Valley down to its southern border near McNab Creek, and is several miles wide from east to west.
Paragraph 9.b applies to the entire county and state. It says that permits for new wells or alterations of existing wells that pump more than two acre-feet per year will only be issued if they do not interfere with existing nearby wells or cause ground subsidence that would damage nearby infrastructure.
You can kiss goodbye to the one-page well permit application. Both paragraphs will mean more hoops to jump through and increased costs for well drillers and well owners. As Eric Cadaret stated at the meeting, the new rules are in response to some of the groundwater basins in the Central Valley being in a “death spiral” from overpumping. Ukiah’s groundwater is in pretty good shape and the goal is to keep it that way. The audience was full of experienced ag people, both well owners and drillers.
Some highlights from the workshop:
- Two Acre-Feet per year amounts to almost 685,000 gallons per year. Most households use between 2,000 and 5,000 gallons per month. Most domestic wells will not be affected by this order.
- For wells that produce less than two acre-feet per year, does the definition of “domestic” include people on small acreage who use their well water to also water animals?
- What is the definition of “nearby wells” and “nearby infrastructure” in the Order?
- Well repair permits will need to be approved by both the County and the UVBGSA in a process that can take up to 90 days. What about emergency repairs where livestock or crops need immediate water? Do owners and well contractors need to wait for permit approval? Can simple repairs that do not increase the amount pumped be fast-tracked? Any wait time is too long in most cases.
- While waiting for permit approval will property owners be able to have water hauled in? This is a concern because of new rules for water trucks instituted last year, prohibiting some water hauling.
- How long will the monitoring period be when determining whether there is ground subsidence or interference with neighboring wells?
- On large acreages where there are no nearby wells, does the owner need to also drill a “test well” to monitor subsidence and interference?
- If subsidence or interference is the reason for the permit is denied, it may be possible to apply for a new permit requesting a lower amount to be pumped.
- The County needs to do a survey of all existing wells. They don’t know how many wells are actually out there.
- Will well drillers be kept in the loop during the lengthy permitting process?
- It already takes far longer than it should to get any sort of permit from the county. Calls go unanswered, there is not enough staff. Who is going to handle the new permitting process? If you put new rules in place to protect groundwater without staff to implement them, it amounts to nothing more than virtue signaling. Supervisor McGourty said that the County is hoping to hire a water resource team using grant money. Marlayna Duley said that the State Water Resources Control Board is mandating that the County complies with these new rules. The County is trying to comply with as few extra burdens as possible. The public is welcome to submit ideas.
- The State of California has billions of dollars available for water infrastructure. The new rules put a tremendous burden on the county and farmers. Will the state provide funding for any of this?
- If after all paperwork is submitted for a new well and it is not approved after all the testing process, it will need to be destroyed. Does the owner need to apply for a “destruction permit?”
- Ballpark figure for new hydrogeology and other reports required? $30,000 to $60,000. Could be as high as $250,000.
- Will it help fast-track the permitting process if well owners use an independent consultant who can get the permit approved quickly?
- Is there a difference between a permit to pump river “underflow” rather than groundwater?
- This is opening Pandora’s box.
- The devil is in the details.
The next workshop will be held in January 2023. Stay tuned.