When it comes to discussing water in the North Bay, the conversation couldn't be more polarized.
Either you support the struggling salmon in our creeks and point your finger at the vineyards dotting the landscape, or you support our agriculture and adamantly object to any suggestion that the wine industry's treatment of the environment is anything less than exemplary. This fractured conversation has been stuck on replay for decades and has festered into a lack of trust, a lack of transparency and a lack of productive work toward a sustainable water future.
The dearth of data on our water resources has allowed this unproductive dialogue to persist. When we don't know how much water is in our creeks and aquifers, and when we don't know how much water is being used to support people and to irrigate vineyards, it is equally easy and equally pointless to argue that the impact is huge or that the impact is minimal. We can argue all day long, but when wells remain unmetered and comprehensive studies of our watersheds have not been done, no progress can be made.
So how do we move forward? First, we must remove the veil of secrecy. Residents and the wine industry alike need to disclose how much water they are using and from what sources. This is basic information we need in order to properly manage our water resources. Second, we need comprehensive monitoring and modeling studies of all of our watersheds. These studies should provide estimates of groundwater recharge, stream/aquifer connectivity and both residential and agricultural water use. These studies can then provide the basis for conducting water-availability analyses whenever permits are requested for new residential, vineyard or winery development.
So since everyone has a right to know how much water is being recharged and withdrawn from the aquifers we all share, let's call for transparency and urge our county and state governments to develop comprehensive watershed models and integrate them into the land-use planning process.
Jeremy Kobor is a hydrogeologist from Sebastopol.
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