Zone 7 gains official control over well permitting, fee collection in region

Long-waived fees to be charged for new well projects

With groundwater protection becoming an increasingly important issue, Zone 7 Water Agency officially adopted a new county rule that gives the agency authority over permitting for new well drilling, maintenance and other situations.

In effect, the change means residents, businesses and municipalities that want to dig new wells, get them fixed or do other work will have to pay for the permits to do so.

Zone 7 has been taking care of permitting under the direction of the Alameda County Public Works Agency since 1973. While the county allowed for fee collection related to the permits and even set up a fee schedule for each permit, Zone 7 had long waived the county fees associated with those permits.

Alameda County Public Works Agency passed an updated county ordinance in March that gives Zone 7 regulatory authority on paper, so Zone 7 will now be able to collect the fees associated with the permits it issues starting Jan. 1. Zone 7 approved a resolution acknowledging their new powers and directing staff to collect the appropriate fees at a board meeting Wednesday night.

Zone 7 monitors more than 200 groundwater wells in the Tri-Valley.

Permits to build, rehabilitate or destroy wells for water supply, water monitoring and other specified uses cost $397 per site. Permits for exploratory hole for contamination studies, environmental studies and geotechnical studies, as well as construction or destruction of vapor monitoring wells, cost $265 per site. Permits for construction or destruction of remediation systems, such as vapor probes, recharge wells or other specified systems, cost $265 per site. Alameda County Public Works Agency decides how much the fees for each type of permit costs.

That money will go into Zone 7's Fund 100, which is used for regular maintenance, staff salaries and other day-to-day expenses.

Zone 7 was put in charge of groundwater management, including well permitting, in the 1970s when regional officials realized the local aquifer was being sucked dry. Through the decades, the aquifer has risen from a historic low of about 190 feet above the mean sea level (MSL) to about 270 feet above the MSL, representing a recovery of the underground water supply to safe levels, Zone 7 general manager Jill Duerig said. The ground surface sits at 330 feet above the MSL.

Statewide, the issue of groundwater and well management has been a topic of interest for public and private water agencies since 30-46% of the state receives its potable water from groundwater -- a particularly important statistic given the lack of water coming via rain and snow over the years-long drought.

Zone 7 monitored 237 groundwater wells as of the latest count in September 2014, according to the Zone 7 Groundwater Management Program Annual Report. Some are owned by municipalities, some are owned and operated by Zone 7 and some are run by residents or businesses.

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