TABLE OF CONTENTS
|Sonoma County Water Agency’s Role
in a Sustainable Regional Future: A Discussion of Alternatives
This came from the SCWA files. We are not sure who the author is, but we do know that the head of the agency is involved.
October 31, 2007
The Sonoma County Water Agency was created in 1949 to meet two urgent regional needs–providing flood protection and a water supply. The Agency successfully carried out these tasks, creating a water transmission system and flood control projects that allowed the county and the region to thrive and grow.
Almost 70 years after the Agency’s creation, the needs of Sonoma County and the surrounding region have become greater, more complex, and more closely connected with statewide, national, and global issues. New challenges exist. Regionally, a need exists for comprehensive water resource management achieving a balance among different sources and uses of water. There is also the paramount challenge of global climate change: how to ensure a sustainable, viable environment and economy in a warmer world, and how to reduce greenhouse gas emissions in order to lessen global climate change.
To adapt to new conditions, and to efficiently and effectively carry out its core functions into the future–assuring a safe, reliable, sustainable regional water supply, and providing environmentally-sensitive wastewater and flood control services–the Agency must expand into new areas, and take on new roles. These new areas and roles stem from the Agency’s traditional functions, represent a natural evolution of the Agency’s responsibilities, and could provide significant new public benefits.
Regional Challenges Require Regional Action
The coastal North Bay counties — Marin, Sonoma, and Mendocino–share common goals. These include securing a sustainable water supply while at the same time conserving and contributing to the recovery of the listed salmon species; preserving the counties’ unique “quality of life” assets (in particular, protecting open space resources and maintaiining a viable agricultural sector); and addressing global climate impacts. In front of these goals are a number of obstacles.
The first obstacle is money. Given that the population of the region is becoming a smaller and smaller part of California’s total population, and given the difficult important water and fisheries issues faced by other parts of the state, it is unlikely that the region can rely on state funding to solve its water and fishery needs. This means the region must either rely on its own financial resources, or seek federal assistance. Federal funding is possible because many of the main water supply reservoirs are federal facilities, and a federal agency (the National Marine Fisheries Service) is responsible for overseeing the recovery of the listed salmon species. Obtaining significant federal funding, however, will reqire harmonized, consistent action from regional leaders.
The second obstacle is lack of coordination on issues on a regional scale. Watersheds overlap the three counties, and salmon recognize no county, city, or district boundaries. Currently, different agencies are responsible for water supply, flood control, and fishery conservation activities in different watersheds, because of this “balkanization,” it is not possible to evaluate the region as a whole to determine which actions or projects may result in the most “bang for the buck.” The ability to analyze and carry out projects on a regional, rather than local level will lead to efficiences and economies of scale that will reduce the overall cost of reaching common goals.
Why the Agency?
The Agency is uniquely positioned to take on new regional roles and responsibilities.
Experience: The Agency has a demonstrated record of regional leadership and accomplishments. Over the past 10 years, the Agency has carried out forwardlooking, advanced projects to protect, enhance, and sustain regional resources. Examples include the Agency’s fisheries enhancement projects; wastewater treatment plant modernizations and recycled water projects; aggressive water conservation programs; solar and renewable energy projects; the “hybridization” of the Agency’s fleet of vehicles; embracing the standards of the International Organization for Standardization for Quality Management and Environmental Management (ISO 9000 and ISO 14000 standards); facilitating community-based groundwater management programs; and leadership in statewide integrated regional water management planning efforts. Through these initiatives, the Agency and its staff have acquired expertise and proficiency in a wide range of resource management areas, and are recognized statewide as leaders on resource management and sustainability issues.
Ability: General purpose government entities at all levels–city, county, state, and federal–are limited by political, financial, and jurisdictional constraints. Constituents need more and more services, but are unable or unwilling to raise taxes. Practical solutions to problems are derailed by ideological considerations. The Agency has a large service area and experience dealing with regional statewide and national issues. As an entity with several sources of enterprise funding, the Agency is able to finance projects and to spread the cost over a wide base of both ratepayers and taxpayers. As an entity that has long taken a wider view, the Agency is better able to create the partnerships necessary for broader action.
Expertise: The Agency has assembled a talented, well-educated staff with expertise in the technical areas necessary to successful project implementation planning, engineering, environmental, legal, and financial.
The Agency is poised and positioned to do more for Sonoma County and the region in the next twenty to thirty years. Should the Agency take on new roles and responsibilities? What should those new responsibilities be? Below are three alternative visions of the Agency’s future.
Under the first alternative, the Agency would continue to perform its core functions, limiting its projects and activities to those strictly related to water supply, sanitation, and flood control functions. Within the next 10 years, the Agency would
• Complete and certify the Water Project EIR
• Build the South Transmission System Pipeline
• Increase reliability of the Transmission System against natural hazards
• Work on studies with the Corps and NMFS to modify D1610
• Improve habitat on Dry Creek and take other measures necessary under the Section 7 Biological Opinion
• Respond to Potter Valley Project release issues
• Continue to modernize existing facilities, and divest smaller sanitation districts where appropriate
• Develop ESA-compliant flood control maintenance program
Traditional Functions Plus
Under this alternative, the Agency would perform all activities in Alternative One, plus additional proactive steps that would help finance or facilitate completion of the Alternative One activities. This alternative encompasses many activities the Agency is already undertaking, plus a few new activities.
• Continue to participate in Integrated Regional Water Management Plan process
• Assist in the development of future statewide water bond measures
• Build and maintain carbon-free energy portfolio to offset Agency’s energy use
• Pursue federal legislation for authorization and funding of ESA-related Warm Springs Dam and Coyote Valley Dam projects, conservation hatchery, and Dry Creek pipeline/habitat restoration
• Continue to lead salmonid recovery and restoration efforts
• Develop and construct water banking and extraction wells and facilities
• Proceed with groundwater management programs
• Complete and implement water supply/water use agreements with landowners in Dry Creek and Alexander Valleys
Regional Resources Authority
This alternative broadens the Agency’s role into new areas and consolidates within the Agency a number of activities now performed by other public entities. This alternative requires legislative action to modify the Agency’s enabling statute, as well as a new governance and internal management structure. Under this alternative, the Agency would perform these additional functions:
• Generate and sell renewable and “carbon neutral” electrical power on a retail basis within the region
• Aggregate and market power and carbon credits
• Develop a regional water resource management plan
• Assume formal groundwater management responsibilities on a regional basis
• Assume role as watermaster for the Russian River watershed
• Investigate the feasibility of constructing bioreactor for power production
• Investigate the feasibility of constructing biodiesel production facility and supplying biodiesel fuel to public entities in the region
• Investigate the feasibility of hydrokinetic (wave) energy projects and wind energy projects
• Assume responsibility for operating consolidated wastewater systems, including the Laguna treatment facility
• Assume responsibility for operating consolidated water systems.
The benefits of this alternative are several, Through consolidation of wastewater and water systems, operational costs could be reduced, and recycled water use could be better coordinated with other water resources. Through preparation of a regional water resource management plan, and the assumption of a groundwater management and watermaster role, the Agency could help solve two of the most pressing regional water resource problems–the uncertainty about landowners’ rights to divert Russian River water, and the lack of a comprehensive plan for managing and protecting regional groundwater supplies. Perhaps most significantly, by expanding its production of clean, renewable, “carbon free” energy, and by making that energy available to the region, the Agency could make a genuine, tangible contribution to the fight against global climate change, protect itself against international fuel market disruptions, and provide residents with renewable, clean, local public power.
The Agency’s internal management structure would change under this alternative and its governance would need to be reevaluated. The governing structure would depend on the extent of new roles assumed by the Agency and others, but could be modeled after the Sonoma County Transportation Agency or the Sonoma Marin Area Rail Transit boards. The Board of Supervisors could appoint members to the board, as could cities and counties who contribute assets or wish to participate in the Agency’s activities. Internally, separate General Manager and Chief Engineer positions would exist, and other new positions would be necessary.
Before the Agency can take on a regional role, there must be a consensus among regional leaders and interested parties to support such a role. To obtain such a consensus, regional leaders must be convinced that the proposed role is not simply a “zero-sum game,” in which existing authority and responsibility is merely rearranged. Rather, regional leaders must be convinced that the new Agency role will be of net benefit to them and to their constituents.
To build this regional consensus, a blue-ribbon panel of senior regional leaders should be convened to investigate and evaluate more closely the regional roles that the Agency could play, and recommend possible organizational and governance changes that would facilitate the Agency’s carrying out of those roles. The blue-ribbon committee could be created and appointed by the Legislature, in order to give it more credibility.
In the next thirty years, sustainable resource management will be critical to our region, our state, and our nation. The tasks are many: A sustainable regional water supply. Environmentally-sensitive wastewater disposal. Conservation and recovery of listed salmonid species. Reducing our carbon footprint. Energy self-sufficiency.
Who will take the lead in meeting these challenges for our region? The Agency is prepared to do so. Although an expanded role for the Agency will meet opposition, the key question is this: Can we fully and effectively meet these broad, regional challenges by retaining the status quo?
FOER Editor’s Note
While many good points are discussed in this paper, the process must be transparent. Questions include:
• Will Mendocino residents trust Sonoma politicians when it comes to water?
• Would this proposed change in agency structure allow for the Eel River to be separated from the Russian River?
• How long would that take?
• Who would you trust to make equitable and sustainable water decisions for you and your family?