Since the Fall of 2021, I have served on a committee working under the auspices of the Board of Supervisors Ad Hoc Drought Committee comprised of Supervisors John Haschak and Glenn McGourty.
The charge given our committee was to prepare a draft ordinance that would regulate private sector groundwater wells whose owners sell, or plan to sell water commercially, as well as individuals or entities that transport water from these commercial groundwater wells to customers.
It should be noted that the impetus for developing this ordinance occurred last year during extreme drought conditions when the local cannabis industry was in a record state of over-production, coupled also with record usage of both legal and illegal sources of water, some of which is transported by water trucks.
At Tuesday’s BOS meeting (July 12), the Supes voted 4-1 to approve, with conditions, the draft ordinance.
The Supes formal action was to accept the draft ordinance and forward it to Planning Commission for further review. Additionally, the committee is to work on determining what funding would be required to implement and carry out the ordinance.
The lone dissenting vote, Ted Williams, said he wanted a cost analysis performed, and was skeptical that the cash-strapped county had the money to fund ongoing operation of the ordinance.
He cited concerns about hiring a hydrologist and other staff needed to administer and enforce the regulatory framework. He estimated it would cost in excess of $300,000 to fund the ordinance.
It should be noted the ordinance does not require the hiring of a hydrologist who would be a county employee. It also allows retaining a consulting hydrologist, who would be utilized on a case-by-case basis, a much less costly scenario. The role of a county or consulting hydrologist would be to review the report of a commercial well owner’s hydrologist. Under the proposed ordinance, private well owners who want to sell their water, are required to hire a hydrologist in order to determine, among other things, any adverse effects to source wells and neighboring well owners.
While Supervisors Glenn McGourty and Mo Mulheren joined with John Haschak and Dan Gjerde in approving the draft ordinance, they did so with expressed apprehension about the unknown costs of the program.
Haschak said the proposed ordinance should be forwarded to the Planning Commission for review, and then the committee would work on determining what funding would be required to implement the ordinance. “There has to be the kind of acceptance that this is the right thing to do, and that we will make it work,” he explained.
Gjerde said he didn’t believe “that County general fund dollars would be needed because the state of California is sitting on nearly $100 billion surplus the state will spend money on short-term projects with grants, and the state is increasingly stepping up its review of the groundwater in California and this (ordinance) is right up that alley … I think it’s highly likely that we’ll find the state funding to launch this program on a pilot basis for three years.”
Here are highlights of the proposed ordinance.
Under this proposed Ordinance, individuals desiring to sell water will be required, among other things, to:
• Apply for a Minor Use permit;
• Obtain a Mendocino County Business License, which must be renewed annually;
• Obtain a well permit for each proposed source well;
• Perform a hydrologic well test on the source well;
• Install a water meter on the well;
• Keep various records regarding water production and sales; and
• File various reports with the County regarding well operation and sales.
Individuals or entities engaged in transporting water for sale to customers will be required, among other things, to:
• Not transport water to a commercial cannabis operation that does not have a state license or a state provisional license and either a county permit or an application in active review by the county cannabis department.
• Not transport water from a water supplier to a separate parcel without first obtaining a Mendocino County Business License, to be renewed annually.
• Keep a tracking log of all purchases and deliveries that shall include:
Date, location, volume, of the water purchase.
Date, location, volume, of each water delivery.
The name and contact information of the person to whom the water will be delivered and the date of delivery.
The intended use of the water.
• Not transport water after 10 p.m. or before 5 a.m. unless such transport is for road work or logging operations.
These are just highlights of the two main provisions found in the draft Ordinance.
At this time, it remains unknown how many well owners are currently engaged in the commercial sales of water.
According to Planning and Building Services Director Julia Krog, “Other than one major use permit we processed in 2010, which never actually was utilized by the property owner, I am unaware of other permits.”
Likewise, estimates of how many well owners will exercise the opportunity to engage in water sales is difficult to determine. My best guess is that I doubt it would exceed 100 individuals making application for a permit. In all likelihood, my best guess is there will be less than 50 applicants seeking permits. So I don’t see any sort of burdensome expense to implement and administer this ordinance.
Of course, all regulatory frameworks have two primary components consisting of the rules and the means of enforcement.
Enforcement of well regulations should be relatively straight-forward since the subject wells are fixed in place and most likely few in number given that only commercial “water sale” wells will be regulated.
The situation with water hauling enforcement will prove most likely problematical given that it is a mobile operation not fixed in place, and the County’s shortage of Code Enforcement personnel, and certain constitutional issues restricting law enforcement’s ability to perform vehicle stops without probable cause.
(Jim Shields is the Mendocino County Observer’s editor and publisher, email@example.com, the long-time district manager of the Laytonville County Water District, and is also chairman of the Laytonville Area Municipal Advisory Council. Listen to his radio program “This and That” every Saturday at noon on KPFN 105.1 FM, also streamed live: http://www.kpfn.org.)