To continue our exploration of the drainage issues raised by the Oakmont Golf Club (OGC), we should cover a few topics that were not addressed in the previous article.

It should be noted that OVA Board Vice President Tom Kendrick (and board designee on the golf course issue) made several comments at the July 10 Town Hall indicating that he is receptive to OGC’s position that OVA cost sharing with OGC on the water drainage issue is a matter of fairness and responsibility. OGC has promoted this argument continuously over the past year at town halls and in the OVA’s own corporate newsletter, the Oakmont News. This warrants further exploration.

For more than 50 years California drainage law has followed the principle of the “civil law rule,” which contains the following relevant language:

“The civil law rule, or natural flow rule, places a natural easement or servitude upon the lower land for the drainage of surface water in its natural course, and the natural flow of the water cannot be obstructed by the servient owner to the detriment of the dominant owner.”  Waters and Water Rights, §§452.2A (R.E.Clark ed. 1972)

This principle turns the OGC argument on its head.  OGC (the downstream or “servient owner”) has made the claim that OVA (the upstream or “dominant owner”) owes them the servitude or responsibility of assisting OGC in maintaining the natural and manmade drainage features throughout the golf courses. However, under the general principles of drainage law, it is clear that the downstream or lower landholder has the responsibility to the upstream landholders of maintaining the natural flow of water without obstruction that may be “to the detriment of the dominant (upstream) owner.”  

It is OGC’s sole responsibility to keep the creeks and ponds free of clogging vegetative growth and unobstructed in flow.

In their own Powerpoint presentation at the July 10, 2018 town hall they included the following language in a slide on “California Drainage Law”:  “The downstream property owner is obligated to accept and make provisions for those waters that are the natural flow from the land above.”

Imagine if the Oakmont Golf Courses had been built without the surrounding homes.  All the drainage that existed for thousands of years from the surrounding hills and mountains into the valley would still exist and flow through the golf courses.  Further, the golf courses were originally designed to take advantage of the runoff into Santa Rosa Creek (later renamed Oakmont Creek where it passes through Oakmont) and Sonoma Creek and their various tributaries to create visual water features and storage ponds.

Now add the houses and streets and ask yourself how much additional runoff is created.  OGC claims that the residential neighborhoods are also partly responsible for additional silt clogging the creeks and ponds.  However, rain falling on pavement and hardscape (as opposed to earthen hillsides and fields) reduces the amount of soils that erode into the creeks and water courses of the golf course. Again, from the OGC Powerpoint presentation at the July 10 meeting:

“The upstream property owner may reasonably increase drainage runoff by paving or construction of other impervious surfaces, including buildings, without liability. The upstream property owner may not further increase drainage runoff by diversion of water that previously drained to another area.”

Most drainage disputes between landowners arise when a new development creates problems for an existing development.  Since the Oakmont residential component and the golf courses were built at the same time under a master plan it is highly unlikely (and there is no evidence) that runoff was diverted from its natural course.  In fact, as reported in my previous article (link), drainage of the residential and golf course areas was actually designed to maximize water retention and storage for golf course irrigation.

Swale along West Course #11

In designing the golf course, drainage swales were added along the sides of the fairways and greens to collect storm drainage on the course itself and from the surrounding neighborhoods. Subsurface drainage pipes collect the water as it filters down and directs it to the creeks for storage and/or drainage along the existing natural system of drainage to the Russian River via Oakmont/Santa Rosa Creeks or to San Francisco Bay via Sonoma Creek.


East Course Drainage Swale

Pythian Drive is the highpoint, the”continental divide” as it were, and all water flows east to Sonoma Creek from this point or west through Oakmont Creek, into Santa Rosa Creek along Channel Drive and on through the city into the Russian River.

Stormwater harvesting and management may become increasingly important to OGC with the proposed limits on groundwater tapping that are taking shape.  Pumping of groundwater through wells was largely unregulated until 2014 when the state legislature passed the Sustainable Groundwater Management Act (SGMA).   Sonoma County is in the process of implementing the state law via three separate agencies in the Santa Rosa Plain, Petaluma Valley and Sonoma Valley.  But this part of the discussion is best left to another time.

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  1. Yvonne Frauenfelder on August 5, 2018 at 9:25 am

    “Stormwater harvesting and management may become increasingly important to OGC with the proposed limits on groundwater tapping that are taking shape.”

    A huge thank you, Michael for another superbly researched and written article on our drainage, groundwater and golf courses reality.

  2. Gerry Gwynn on August 6, 2018 at 7:28 am


    Your excellent presentation of the facts is much needed and appreciated.

    Please be sure to e-mail or otherwise post it to current OVA Board of Directors.

    Spanier and Kendrick have made explicit statements indicating that they’ve just accepted OGC’s false claim of “drainage services rendered” and that they do/would support OVA paying OGC hundreds of thousands of dollars (minimum) for five years (minimum) for this clearly nonsensical “service rendered”.

    It is obvious that these false claims may be just intentional and cynical attempts to evade the clear legal prohibitions against using OVA funds for OGC’s financial support. I.e., ‘so let’s instead just pretend that OGC is a valid contractor to OVA and use that ruse to transfer OVA funds to OGC’…

  3. John barrett on August 7, 2018 at 8:34 am

    The compelling benefit that I see in considering OGC support is the community sharing of resource alignment to common community benefit. Legal arguments should not be allowed to overshadow the common good to the detriment of our Oakmont Village.
    The financial agreement must also insure OVA has a healthy future

  4. Peggy Dombeck on August 7, 2018 at 8:37 am

    thank you for a very informative article

  5. Donna Hopley on August 7, 2018 at 9:08 am

    A major concern is that the cost/sharing scheme, advanced by Director Kendrick, will result in a BoD vote guaranteeing OGC funds for the maintenance of the waterways and ponds without further elaboration, nor a vote by the Oakmont community.

    As I stated in the third Town Hall OGC meeting (it was never covered in the Oakmont News) that cleaning up OGC waterways is OGCs responsibility and theirs alone. Would OGC give us money for the water they capture to water their fairways?

    From Michael Connolly’s article above:
    “The civil law rule, or natural flow rule, places a natural easement or servitude upon the lower land for the drainage of surface water in its natural course, and the natural flow of the water cannot be obstructed by the servient owner to the detriment of the dominant owner.” Waters and Water Rights, §§452.2A (R.E.Clark ed. 1972)

    OVA dues money is to pay for our facilities, not donate to a for-profit golf course that we know will not sustain profitability.

  6. Hugh Helm on August 7, 2018 at 10:30 am

    An excellent and informative article. OgC is stretching for arguments to justify OVA support, but it appears “fairness” regarding drainage, is not one of them.

  7. Karen Donnelly on August 7, 2018 at 11:01 am

    A great and well researched article. I am one of the property owners located in an area not currently being maintained. As the waterway continues to clog, during the rains, the water inches closer to the homes (2) along the waterway. Additionally they’ve allowed downed tree limbs to further impede the flow. They haven’t maintained this area for 4-5 years now claiming they don’t have the money nor the manpower. I’m not willing to support supporting them unless and until they give us concrete assurance they will maintain their waterways and anything else that affects our community.

  8. Ellen Dolores on August 7, 2018 at 2:01 pm

    Thanks to all who have delved into the OGC attempt to get Oakmont residents to support the OGC’s failing, if not very soon to fail, business.

    1. They just asked but also assumed we would say yes to a dues increase to support the OGC.

    2. Then the sales pitches started with OGC meetings, and clearly one-sided OVA meetings.

    3. Then maybe we should buy some of the OGC land for a dog park (google law firms representing
    HOAS about the wisdom of doing this-all say loudly – NO!) Oh and they failed to say our current OVA
    Insurance carrier, Kemper, will not renew our policy when it is set to expire if we have a dog

    4. Then they turned our already biased OVA News made worse by omissions such as the status of our
    Insurance, into the need for the creation of an alternate paper, The Oakmont Observer. I guess
    The Oakmont News’s “fake news” or news except what we don’t want you to know news, means we
    need two in case the Kenwood Press and The Press fail to report on Oakmont problems.

    5. Now the OGC and the OVA Board is running the following up their banana republic flag pole – the
    OVA should pay for the drainage and water responsibilities on this privately held business not
    owned by our retirement community or of any real value to almost anyone – with the possible
    exception of those who see the grass everyday on the courses – the grass of course representing in
    our current environmental situation a totally anachronistic as well morally reprehensible waste of
    water so 300 people can hit a ball in some holes in the ground.

    What is the next ploy? Stay tuned.

  9. Anatole Burkin on August 8, 2018 at 9:41 am

    I am very impressed and grateful for this type of solid reporting on a very important topic.

    I hope the OVA board members wake up and see how they are being played by the OGC.

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