New High-Quality Terrain Data Will Enhance Conservation and Management

May 21, 2014

Posted in: Press Releases


Media Contact:
Amy Ricard

New High-Quality Countywide Terrain Data Will Enhance Agricultural and Natural Resource Conservation and Management

Sonoma County Ag & Open Space District and Sonoma County Water Agency Unveil LiDAR Data

SANTA ROSA, CA (May 21, 2014) – The Sonoma County Agricultural Preservation & Open Space District (District) – in collaboration with the Sonoma County Water Agency (Water Agency), Information Services Department, Transportation & Public Works, and several other local, state and federal partners – is pleased to announce the public release of high-resolution countywide terrain data to allow for integrated agricultural and natural resource conservation and management. These data will benefit the community now and for generations to come.

With direction from the Board of Directors, the coalition initiated a project one year ago to collect LiDAR (Light Detection and Ranging) – a sophisticated laser-based mapping tool – to provide accurate inventories of topography, vegetation, hydrography, carbon stocks and many other features critical to effective planning and management by the District and multiple county agencies. The effort to acquire and utilize these data is called the Sonoma County Vegetation Mapping and LiDAR Program (“Sonoma Veg Map” for short).

“The acquisition of these high-quality scientific data is extremely exciting as they will provide critical information to our county agencies to protect and preserve our community,” said District 2 Supervisor and Board of Directors Chair David Rabbitt. “Moreover, this successful collaboration between the District and the Water Agency is a prime example of county agencies working together on shared goals to be more efficient with funding and resources.”

Uses for vegetation and LiDAR data
The primary use of these data is to inform the District’s land conservation planning and management, however there are many ancillary benefits that will be of great value to District partners and to the community. Those benefits include: habitat mapping, documentation of carbon sequestration, groundwater recharge and drought planning, flood management and planning, agricultural viability, fuel load suppression and fire preparedness, disaster planning, and sea level rise and coastal hazard modeling. The data are free and available for download to the public via the Sonoma Veg Map website ( – the informational hub for this project.

Collecting and utilizing LiDAR data is becoming the standard for environmental planning nationwide. Several states have acquired “wall to wall” LiDAR data for their entire geographic area. Locally, Sonoma County is the last of the nine county Bay Area to acquire these data. Napa County is poised to embark on its second round of LiDAR data collection.

“These data will provide essential information for our work in flood protection and ecosystem restoration, and for our effort to improve water quality and water security in the region,” said Water Agency General Manager Grant Davis.

“Landowners, environmental planners, engineers, and scientists working in the County will rely on these more accurate and precise topographic data to support modern farming, roadwork, city planning and habitat protection,” said Josh Collins, Chief Scientist at San Francisco Estuary Institute (SFEI). “SFEI hopes to use these data to map the surface waters and riparian areas throughout the County. The new LiDAR dataset greatly increases the ability of all interests to protect County lands and waters and the life they support.”

County-led coalition leverages external funds to acquire data
Given the sophisticated nature of LiDAR and its extremely high level of accuracy, it is expensive to acquire. The District and Water Agency were able to substantially offset these costs by leveraging external state and national funds – including a one million dollar grant from NASA. Other funders included the Sonoma County Information Services Department, Sonoma County Transportation & Public Works, USGS, the City of Petaluma, The Nature Conservancy, California Department of Fish and Wildlife, and Save the Redwoods League.

Although expensive, these LiDAR data will save the County money in the long term due to their many applications for regular work conducted by county agencies. These data will save substantial costs related to environmental planning, agricultural viability, District prioritization and stewardship, regulatory compliance, and water supply planning. These data will also help the District, Water Agency and other partners bring in outside funds to the County, such as securing state funding related to carbon sequestration in natural landscapes, or via the enhancement of grant applications with high-level data.

By leveraging local investment to garner state and federal funds, the District and Water Agency were able to obtain the data at an incredible value, making it an extremely cost-effective endeavor – for every $1 spent locally, the District and Water Agency secured $1.50 in external funding.

“We are thrilled to have acquired these data with such a diverse set of funders and supporters,” said District General Manager Bill Keene. “We now have highly accurate and cost-effective tools and resources to more effectively plan and manage the conservation of agricultural lands, natural resources and open space areas to ensure a healthy and thriving future for Sonoma County.”

These data are the first set of deliverables of the Sonoma Veg Map Program. More data will be collected and made available during subsequent phases of the project over the next two years. More information about this program can be found here:


About the Sonoma County Agricultural Preservation and Open Space District
The Sonoma County Agricultural Preservation and Open Space District permanently protects the diverse agricultural, natural resource and scenic open space lands of Sonoma County for future generations. Since 1990, the District has protected more than 109,000 acres. Agricultural and open space lands have been protected through a 1/4-cent sales tax approved by voters in 1990 and reauthorized in 2006. For more information, please visit

About the Sonoma County Water Agency
The mission of the Sonoma County Water Agency is to effectively manage the water resources in our care for the benefit of people and the environment through resource and environmental stewardship, technical innovation, and responsible fiscal management. The Water Agency provides an array of services including, but not limited to, naturally filtered drinking water, flood protection services, distribution of recycled water, recreational opportunities and wastewater treatment. For more information, please visit