Case Studies

solar panels
SCWA has integrated three photovoltaic systems into its operations

To meet the goals of the Carbon Free Water by 2015 Program, the Sonoma County Water Agency has implemented several energy production, energy efficiency, and sustainability projects including:

  • Vineyard Irrigation Demonstrations
  • Community Water Education
  • Organic Waste/Fuel Cell Project
  • Hydrokinetic Energy Project
  • Geoexchange Energy Project

These projects demonstrate SCWA's leadership and commitment reducing their carbon footprint and educating communities, both locally and nationally, about sustainability practices.

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Vineyard irrigation water conservation demonstration
Vineyard Irrigation & Cooling Water Demonstration

The Sonoma County Water Agency works closely with the agricultural community to inform and educate growers about using less water. To promote adoption of water conservation technologies in Sonoma County’s thriving wine industry, the Agency is sponsoring two vineyard demonstration projects at Hoot Owl Creek-Alexander Valley Vineyards. These projects will utilize state-of-the-art irrigation and cooling technologiesto illustrate water and energy conservation opportunities in vineyards.

The demonstrations in 2009 and 2010 were conducted on 3,000 acres of the Alexander Valley Vineyards.

The nozzles on the irrigation systems were replaced with larger nozzles that delivered 55 GPM and a variety of conditions were tested, including:

  • Providing one emitter per vine
  • Using two emitters per vine to spread the water pattern
  • Daytime irrigation treatment
  • High Volume (deep), infrequent watering
  • Light-moderate and moderate-severe stress levels of 15 bars before water application

To record data and control irrigation schedules, the Eko Pro Network solar powered radio and sensory unit and Ranch Systems were utilized to remotely measure and transmit soil moisture profiles. The demonstrations highlighted new technologies as well as older, less efficientirrigation practices , which allowed the community to compare the options.

“The purpose of the demonstration projects is to provide a venue for both education and two-way communication on the subject of vineyard water use,” said Mark Greenspan, demonstration manager and owner/viticulturist of Advanced Viticulture, LLC. “We will show growers how they can easily save water, energy and money while still producing excellent wine grapes.” In addition to managing these demonstration projects, Greenspan is working with SCWA to develop and distribute irrigation best management practices to growers, develop further irrigation demonstration projects, and convene targeted outreach to growers within the Russian River Watershed.

Watch a video explaining the demonstration project and learn more about the final demonstration results.

Poultry waste will be processed by the biodigesters
Organic Waste

The Sonoma County Water Agency is developing an Organic Waste/Fuel Cell Project to convert organic waste into clean power for the Agency’s water and wastewater facilities.

Envisioned as a public/private partnership, the private partner would provide one of the Agency’s public wastewater facilities with organic waste collected from Sonoma County poultry farms. Organic waste biodigesters would process the poultry waste into biomethane, which would be cleaned, stripped of CO2, dried, and injected into the local utility’s natural gas pipelines. Natural gas would be drawn from the pipelines to provide fuel for fuel cells at the Agency’s water and wastewater facilities with large electrical loads throughout the county. One of the fuel cells would be located with the biodigesters at the wastewater treatment plant. The excess heat from this fuel cell would be used to heat the biodigesters to maintain optimal biological conditions and dry the sludge from the biodigesters which would be sold as organic fertilizer.

The public/private partnership would optimize financing mechanisms such as renewable energy tax credits for the private entity and low interest municipal bond financing for the public entity resulting in a cost effective, long term energy contract that would not be vulnerable to the instability of market fluctuations in the fossil fuel energy markets. The Agency is investigating whether excess power could be sold through its power provider on the open market.

Sonoma County hydrokinetic energy
Sonoma County hydrokinetic energy project locations
Hydrokinetic Energy Project

The Sonoma Coast Hydrokinetic Energy Project (SCHEP) explores the feasibility of an offshore wave energy conversion facility off the Sonoma County Coast. The process began in November 2007, when the Sonoma County Board of Supervisors directed SCWA to research the potential use of hydrokinetics as a renewable energy source.

On July 7, 2009, the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission approved the Agency’s three applications for Preliminary Permits at Del Mar Landing, Fort Ross (North), and Fort Ross (South). Within each project location, the Agency is restricting its investigation to coastal waters within a .5 to 3 mile zone off the shoreline. The Del Mar Landing location is a 17.87 square mile site that is close to the Mendocino County border and adjacent to The Sea Ranch community. The Fort Ross (North) and Fort Ross (South) locations are adjacent to each other and are located between the Salt Point State Park and the town of Jenner. Fort Ross (North) is a 13.6 square mile site and Fort Ross (South) is a 19.11 square mile site.

During the preliminary permit process, the Agency will perform environmental, engineering, and economic assessments to identify possible facility locations and viable hydrokinetic technologies. The Agency is also conducting outreach meetings along the Sonoma County Coast every 6 months to provide the public current project information and to receive public input. To help guide the Agency during this process, the Agency established an advisory committee of state and local agencies, scientific researchers, and stakeholders to provide expert input in the areas of oceanography, ecology, economics, technology, and policy.

The Agency is continually seeking sources of funding for SCHEP’s feasibility studies. In February 2010, the Agency submitted four grant proposals to the Department of the Interior/Mineral Management Services. For these grants, the Agency partnered with UC Davis Bodega Bay Marin Lab, UC Santa Barbara, Sonoma State University, USGS, National Renewable Energy Lab, Farallon Institute, and the County of Sonoma’s GIS Department and Regional Parks Department. If awarded these grants, feasibility studies are anticipated to begin in early Fall 2010.

The geothermal heating cycle
GeoExchange Energy Efficiency Project

Regional GeoExchange Energy Efficiency Project (RGEEP) is a community-scale project that aims to create a zero net energy business park. The business park is a premier demonstration opportunity for geothermal technology because of its size—one square mile of large office buildings and warehouses—and location adjacent to a water treatment plant. The development will feature a geoexchange heat pump system, which will use water provided by the wastewater treatment plant to offset building heating and cooling loads. Additional savings will be achieved through a combination of energy efficiency measures such as energy efficient lighting, and renewable energy sources, such as solar electricity production.

The heat pump system will cycle water from the Airport-Wikiup-Larkfield Treatment Plant through connected buildings in the Airport Business Center via a network of recycled water piping. The water will cool the buildings during the summer and heat them during the winter using geothermal exchange. Additionally, recycled water from the treatment plant will be used to irrigate landscapes in the Airport Business Center, offseting the use of potable water.

Local business partnerships have been an integral part of this project. The Sonoma County Water Agency hosts two to three annual meetings for commercial property owners to learn about project updates and exchange ideas.

In December 2008, SCWA took the first step to study this project's feasibility by drilling a test well at its administration building, also located in the Airport Business Park. The test well will provide information on the soil composition and capacity of the ground to act as an efficient geoexchange heat sink. SCWA looks forward to completing its feasibility study and developing similar projects in Sonoma Valley and Geyserville.

water education
Students participate in a field study
Water Education

The Sonoma County Water Agency provides local schools with a Water Education Program designed to foster in students an appreciation for water conservation and stewardship of local watersheds. Students are encouraged to use water wisely and make environmentally sustainable choices that will help secure reliable sources of fresh water far into the future.

The Water Education Program includes:

  • Classroom instructional presentations for grade 3
  • Field Study Opportunities for grades 4,5 & 6
  • Teacher trainings and workshops
  • Sponsorship of a school-wide musical assembly program
  • Free curriculum materials for grades K-12
  • A lending library of videos, interactive models, books and printed materials
  • A video contest for high school students
  • A Water Awareness poster contest for elementary grades

Over the past ten years, the Agency has reached 13,729 students (667 classes from 231 schools) in the classroom and brought 14,215 students and 2,800 adult chaperones (524 classes from 223 schools) to participate in the field study programs. The Agency has also held teacher workshops that reached 581 teachers over 42 workshops. Curriculum materials have been distributed to 3,651 classrooms reaching 86,634 students. Since its inception in 2006, the Musical Watershed Assembly Program has held 90 assemblies and reached 21,314 students in Sonoma and Marin Counties.

The Agency is currently working with the Sonoma County Office of Education to create a new Regional Occupational Program for high school students. This innovative new program, scheduled to begin in the 2010-2011 academic year, will teach skills geared towards careers in both the water and energy fields.



Amy Bolten, Public Information Office Sonoma County Water Agency, discusses SCWA's commitment to provide carbon-free water by 2015 through the implementation of numerous programs, policies, and innovative technologies such as the utilization of hydrokinetic energy.