Thursday, July 18, 2024

Mendocino County’s Well Drillers and Farmers Gather to Understand Regulations Governing the Search for Water

The waters of Hopland’s Feliz Creekk [Picture by Matt LaFever]

Well drillers and agricultural property owners gathered at Barra of Mendocino Winery on April 17, 2023 for the second workshop on the new well permitting process. Glenn McGourty, District One Supervisor and Chair of the Board of Directors of the Ukiah Valley Basin Groundwater Sustainability Agency gave a few brief remarks to open the meeting. Eric Cadaret of West Yost Associates, General Manager of the UVBGSA, and Marlayna Duley of the County Environmental Health Department went over the draft well permitting review process. A representative from the engineering consulting service Stantec was also on hand.

For more information about the new groundwater agency, please check out the UVBGSA web page. 

The purpose of this workshop was to summarize the feedback received at the November 15, 2022 workshop, and to present the draft County/GSA well permitting review process to comply with Executive Order N-7-23.  The Order, signed by Governor Gavin Newsom on February 13, 2023, amends Executive Order N-7-22 signed on March 28, 2022. With regard to well drilling, N-7-23 amends paragraph 9 of the previous order to add a third exception to the new regulations (for wells affected by eminent domain). 

On April 28, 2023, Governor Gavin Newsom will review the comments gathered at the workshops. There could be revisions to the executive orders in the future because of assembly bills currently under consideration, but not yet passed, that may affect well drilling. From Ventura County Assemblyman Steve Bennet’s webpage:

AB 429 –Dry Wells trigger: If 1% of domestic wells in a critically overdrafted basin go dry, then this bill would require counties, or local groundwater permitting agencies, to determine whether a new well is likely to cause interference to nearby wells, before permitting new wells.

AB 1563 – Well Permitting: Requires agencies that issue water well permits to acquire sign-off from the local groundwater sustainability agency prior to issuing the permit. The bill also allows community input prior to the issuance of the well permit; ensuring community members have the opportunity to submit input concerning the protection of safe drinking water. The bill is narrow in scope and applies only to basins deemed in “Critical Overdraft” by the Department of Water Resources. Exemptions for replacement wells are also included in the new bill.

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Major concerns stated at the prior workshop:

  • Cost of the new mandatory pumping tests
  • Length of review time for permits
  • Emergency repairs – do they need permits?
  • Who pays for cost of test review for new permits?
  • This will take a lot of coordination between GSA, County, Drillers, Property Owners and other third parties
  • Clarity on review process – who is qualified to analyze data and provide report?

The draft new permitting review process:

Step 1 – Review of well permit application by the County

Step 2 – Determine well type and location (if pumping test not necessary, skip to Step 5)

Step 3 – Pumping test 

Step 4 – Evaluation of pumping test results 

Step 5 – Well permit application determination

Discussion and comments from the workshop:

  • There was a comment from the audience about the difficulty of the public having to deal with the county’s understaffed agencies. It can be even more difficult than usual when the County rolls out a new procedure. McGourty said the County needs to implement the new procedures in a way that complies with the rules but with the least amount of burden on the applicants.
  • For those who are unhappy with the new procedures, McGourty reminded the group that the new regulations protect existing well owners from having a neighbor drill a well that would cause depletion to their well.
  • When drilling a new well, the UVBGSA needs to verify that 1) water table will be sustainable; and 2) that nearby wells will not be affected, and the new well will not cause land subsidence.
  • Frost Pauli, Water Committee Chair on the Mendocino County Farm Bureau acknowledged that the new regulations are coming. The Farm Bureau wants to ensure that the rights of farmers and ranchers in the Ukiah Valley Groundwater Basin be protected.
  • A well driller commented that in some cases a repair that would normally not be subject to review, for example swapping out a pump that died, might unintentionally trigger a review. Say a pump rated to produce 1,000 gallons per minute is at the end of its life, clogged with sediment, and only produces 800 gallons per minute. The replacement pump will actually produce 1,000 per minute. Technically, the county and UVBGSA could deem a review necessary because there will be more gallons per minute pumped. Situations such as this, that are open to interpretation, need to be clarified. This is only one example of a situation that could be open to interpretation.
  • The domestic exemption for under 2 acre-feet per year. Does this include small livestock holdings and gardens? What if a domestic user has never used more than 2 acre-feet per year, but the well is capable of producing far more. Are the regulations based on use or capacity?
  • If a well collapses, necessitating a new well being drilled on the same property, the replacement well would be considered a new well, subject to GSA review.
  • Not every GSA in the state uses pumping tests. Some use computer modeling based on data collected over the years. Computer modeling is much cheaper than a pump test. Unfortunately, Mendocino County does not have enough data collected to use modeling.
  • Pump tests are already required on the Mendocino Coast. Testing and review guidelines have been developed, which will probably also be used for the Ukiah Valley.
  • Are there any sources of funding to offset costs? This is a state mandate that is unfunded.
  • There is talk of decommissioning Scott Dam at Lake Pillsbury. If the Potter Valley Project goes away, there will be a lot more stress on the Ukiah Groundwater Basin.
  • There was a question about the term of the Executive Order. Does it expire? What happens when there is a different governor? Holly Roberson, an attorney with the Kronick law firm, specializing in environmental and water issues, said that the Executive Order is currently the law, despite the fact that it’s not yet a statute, and compliance is not optional.
  • The Association of California Water Agencies fought the Executive Order.
  • Mendocino County is considered economically disadvantaged and may qualify for more grant funding.
  • The Ukiah Valley Groundwater Basin is in better shape than most, the ground water recharges regularly. We want to save and bank water in the rainy season.
  • There is a separate set of wells drawing Flood Control water that are not part of the GSA.
  • Some counties meter all wells. Mendocino County does not meter wells. Some well owners provide metering voluntarily, and municipal wells in the County are metered.

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  1. Looking for water and in next 5 to 10 years all ground water going have chemicals I it from all the grows chemical fertilizers that no one regulates look who gots nice store grow shop. Selling poison that people are use bye the 1000 of gallons that will end up I’m the ground water no one checks the labels they put on there products are false and components who test them are paid off

    • I promise you that pears use a ton of pesticides in the spring just, and that the herbicides sprayed to keep weeds away from the grapevines definitely get into the water. Even the city park uses herbicide around the trees our kids play on and so many telephone poles are kept weed free by spraying.
      But it is interesting who is considered a farmer and who isn’t.
      The real question in my mind is what are we growing with the water we have? Food? NO,(pears , we salute you!),we grow wine and weed from which most of the money doesn’t make it to the common folk, but the escapism these crops provide does.

  2. “In most areas of California, overlying land owners may extract percolating ground water and put it to beneficial use without approval from the State Board or a court. California does not have a permit process for regulation of ground water use. In several basins, however, groundwater use is subject to regulation in accordance with court decrees adjudicating the ground water rights within the basins.
    The California Supreme Court decided in the 1903 case Katz v. Walkinshaw that the “reasonable use” provision that governs other types of water rights also applies to ground water.”



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Monica Huettl
Monica Huettl
Mendocino County Resident, Annoying Horse Girl.

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