Beth Novak Milliken represented the Napa Valley Vintners on the Groundwater Sustainability Plan Advisory Committee (GSPAC). In 1987, she joined her mother, Mary Novak at Spottswoode, becoming the first second-generation family member to become actively involved in guiding Spottswoode Estate Vineyard & Winery, of which Beth is President & CEO. Spottswoode is a certified Organic and Biodynamic estate winery.It is also the first winery in Napa Valley to be a certified B Corp. Its focus and leadership on environmental stewardship are widely known and recognized. Its deep commitment is captured in its Core Purpose, which reads: Grounded in Stewardship, we actively effect and inspire meaningful change through nurturing our vineyards, community, and planet.

Eyes on Napa (EON): As a member of the Groundwater Sustainability Plan Advisory Committee (GSPAC), you have participated over the last year and a half in the formation of the draft Groundwater Sustainability Plan (GSP). What is your own assessment of this draft as it is proposed?

Beth Novak Milliken (BVM): My assessment is that, with the unanimous vote for the formation of a Technical Work Group to work closely with the GSA in implementing our GSP, what we have created is a solid start. There is much to be done for all of us to better understand our groundwater resources, and this will come with more measuring and monitoring, as also called out in the Plan. With the votes in (I voted yes on the Plan, and proposed the Technical Work Group), I am optimistic that the GSA will understand the need to act on this plan, to implement it in the manner that we, as the GSPAC, have asked. This is crucial to the success of this Plan.

EON: A number of people feel that GSPAC is heavily weighted with Ag representatives. Do you agree?

BVM: I do not based upon the true composition of the GSPAC. Please see the attached spreadsheet of the composition of the committee:
GSPAC Roster updated

EON:You propose that the Groundwater Sustainability Agency (GSA) appoint a Technical Work Group with strong people to advise and implement the GSA. Could you say more about why you are proposing this and what the composition of this committee should be?

BNM: My great hope is that we come together to jointly support the plan we have worked so hard to create. I believe we can achieve this cohesion through the formation of a GSP Technical Work Group that will work closely with the GSA in immediately implementing our plan. Not only will this give the GSA and the County the resource it needs to deeply understand and successfully implement this thorough, dense, and technical plan, but it will offer all of us (GSPAC and Napa County citizens) needed assurance that this plan will be successful in allowing us to responsibly steward and share our water, which is our scarcest shared resource, thus allowing our communities, agriculture, and the natural environment in our subbasin to be healthy going forward.

In my motion to the GSPAC, I offer one possible composition suggestion below as an example of what might be appropriate in terms of the range of backgrounds and expertise for this important workgroup. A group of nine, comprised of three resource agency members (U.S. Fish and Wildlife, California Department of Fish and Wildlife, Napa RCD), a grape grower, a vintner, two local environmental stakeholders, and two public members (one with strong academic credentials, such as Thomas Harter from UC Davis; one perhaps representing municipal interests). Members of the TWG would commit to bringing a problem-solving orientation to the work. They must also be able to review and digest technical information, devote time to come up with constructive options, and be willing to work collaboratively to develop solutions. This was simply a possible composition, yet this needs to be worked out and I expect it to change.

Crucial to success will be a focus on Water Conservation, a 10% reduction in average annual historical (2005-2014) pumping [as the Plan proposes], a fair protocol that distinguishes those who have already adopted water-saving measures, and enhanced and expanded measuring and monitoring. We can only manage what we measure. It is important that the groundwater use for all groundwater use sectors be reported annually (vineyards and wineries should not be the only users reported upon).

EON:The Board of Supervisors (BOS) has appointed themselves to be the GSA. In communications from the Department of Water Resources, we have discovered that this is legal. What is your opinion of this? What are the pros and cons?

I will go with facts here, as opposed to offering an opinion. For all medium and high-priority basins identified by the state, SGMA requires preparation of a GSP by one or more of the local agencies with water supply, water management, or land use responsibilities within the basin (Water Code section 10721(n)). In the Napa Valley sub-basin, the only qualifying local agencies are Napa County, the City of Napa, the Town of Yountville, the City of St. Helena, and the City of Calistoga. Of these five local agencies, Napa County and the City of St. Helena have the biggest stake in the outcome – Napa County because most of the residents and businesses in the unincorporated area are dependent on groundwater supplies, and St. Helena because the municipal water system depends in significant part on its municipal wells.

Any one of the qualifying local agencies could have formed the GSA for the entire basin, and any combination of the qualifying local agencies could have formed a GSA for the entire basin (Water Code section 10723.6 (a)). If no local agency volunteers, the County becomes the GSA by default (Water code section 10724). Of the five qualifying agencies in the Napa sub-basin, only Napa County took steps to form a GSA. In other words, all the qualifying agencies had an opportunity to volunteer for this job, but only Napa County raised its hand.

Given the available resources, it seems to me that Napa County is by far the local agency best able to take this on. The City of Napa doesn’t really have so much at stake, and it makes no sense at all for any of the smaller municipalities. Preparing and implementing a GSP is a very demanding responsibility.

EON: A criticism of the draft GSP and of the process whereby it was written is that it has a narrow focus on the Napa subbasin and doesn’t include the health of the watersheds that sustain it. What are your thoughts on this?

BNM: The boundary of the Napa Subbasin was created by the DWR. As I understand it, it is not something that the GSPAC nor the County could change. While the groundwater in our subbasin is absolutely connected to all the water in the watershed that drains to it, the boundaries were set by the state, and so that was our area of focus in analyzing groundwater sustainability. Please know that the entire watershed is considered in the Basin Characterization Model, which is an integral part of the Napa Valley Integrated Hydrologic Model. This is to say, the GSP does not deal solely with the subbasin in devising the Water Budget. I concur that the watersheds are crucial to the health of the groundwater in our subbasin, and that they must also be stewarded well.

EON:Why is it important that the BOS pass/not pass the draft GSP? Under what circumstances should it be/not be passed?

BNM:If the GSA does not approve the GSP and submit it to the state, we will be in violation of the law (SGMA). We would also be in violation of the grant agreement with the state. The State of California gave us ~$2M to write the plan, and for that reason, we had to agree to actually submit one. So, we’re double bound.

EON: Several GSPAC members say a weakness of the GSP is that the data used to create the plan is insufficient. Do you agree?

BNM: It was recognized, verbally and written in the Plan itself, and agreed that there are significant data gaps that must be filled. We need more data to manage our groundwater well, and gathering this is a very important part of the implementation of our plan and something that the Technical Work Group will need to focus on. This is to say, this need to fill the data gaps is recognized and acknowledged.