Sebastian Bertsch’s interest in groundwater stewardship started early. Recalling his early childhood spent hiking with his family in his native Switzerland, he marveled at the abundance of freshwater along the way. “You never had to carry a water bottle,” he said. “You’d always find little springs that provided a source of fresh water to drink.” This early exposure instilled in him an appreciation for the interconnectedness of water systems and a mindset of abundance rather than scarcity.

With a background in engineering and a keen interest in Permaculture, Sebastian has seamlessly integrated his professional expertise with his passion for sustainability. In his professional life, he splits his time to local projects, policy development, and state and national initiatives related to land and water management. He currently serves on the Petaluma Groundwater Sustainability Agency Advisory Committee, too. As a residential well owner in western Petaluma, he aims to build water resilience on his own land through a mix of relatively low cost, high benefit methods.

Sebastian has implemented a range of strategies on his property to maximize water conservation and enhance habitat biodiversity. A soil improvement plan helps support soil absorption on his parcel. Technical improvements involve collection of roof runoff, laundry-to-landscape graywater system, bio swales and rain gardens. He also minimizes impervious surfaces in the hardscape, and actively harvests water with rain tanks to provide irrigation to his garden and fruit trees all year. A ditch on the side of his driveway used to cause a muddy flow toward the creek, so instead, he diverted that flow into the garden. Every aspect of his approach is designed to slow the flow of water, spread it, and sink it into the soil, and minimize his need to draw water from the aquifer.

Is this diverted water going into his well’s aquifer? “It’s very hard to say for sure,” he said, noting that he wished we knew more about the connection between surface water to groundwater. “Hydrogeology does not care about parcel lines, so it’s hard to assess the impact of the work on my property for the overall health of the aquifer.” But he said he rests assured that he is creating a benefit by not contributing sediment to the creek by slowing the release of water to it, and by creating a better biological habitat for plants and animals. He is drawing less irrigation water out of the aquifer because there is more moisture in the soil year-round.

Through his proactive measures, Sebastian has not only created a more resilient water supply for his own household but also sets an inspiring example for his community. His commitment to sustainable groundwater management serves as a reminder that each of us has a role to play in safeguarding water resources, both on the surface and underground.
Sebastian Bertsch is a Project Strategist with Sherwood Design Engineers. He lives in Petaluma, CA and currently serves on the Petaluma Valley GSA Advisory Committee. He previously lived in Sebastopol and was one of the original members of the Santa Rosa Plain GSA Advisory Committee.