Although the Napa City Council voted to limit trucked water to parcels outside of the city limits to 6000 gallons a month versus 4000 gallons, for those with more than one house on a property or livestock, this is not sustainable. At the same time, “interruptible Ag” customers are receiving 80% of their 2020 draw. Is water for wineries and vineyards being prioritized before drinking water for those county residents unlucky enough to have their wells drained by county sanctioned development and by changes in our climate? Isn’t it time our county government takes up water security for all?–editors

The following LTE appeared in the Napa Register on July 15, 2021.

The Water Wars Have Begun
by Patricia Damery

Those of us who attended the city of Napa’s Zoom meeting outlining the proposed changes to the hydrant meter usage starting Aug. 1, 2021 (to be voted on at the Napa City Council on July 20), witnessed the beginning of what promises to become a contentious and challenging transition into water rationing.

We agree with the city’s clear-eyed attention to the water emergency in our county, planning to meet the needs of city residents. However, we are alarmed at the county’s apparent blind eye to the needs of residents outside of the city.

Since 2009, the trucking of water to rural customers from the city of Napa hydrants has increased. Rural wells have become underperforming or dry due to increased development, the drilling of more wells, and climate changes and drought. This year trucking reached an all-time high. Between January and June, the amount of water trucked has doubled from the same period last year, going from 24 acre-feet (AF) in 2020 to 47 AF in 2021.

Napa city gets 59% of its water from the North Bay Aqueduct, reserving Lake Hennessy reservoir for use should the city need this water in coming years. Currently, the lake is at 63% capacity. Last season’s low rainfall added only 1,000 AF to the reservoir. The city of Napa has asked city residents to reduce water by 15% voluntarily, but usage has increased. To make up for this, residents must reduce water usage by 20% from August through October or until the rains begin. Irrigation of landscaping will be further restricted. A goal is to keep Lake Hennessy at 54% of capacity by November 2021 as insurance against another dry winter.

But what does the county plan for our water emergency? What about those whose wells have been heavily impacted by the county’s addiction to development and the permitting of more and more wells, resulting in the need for trucked water? As of Aug. 1, rural residents will be limited to 4,000 gallons [The City Council voted in 6000 gallons limit] of trucked water a month for indoor purposes only. Outdoor irrigation with trucked water is prohibited. For a family of four, the 4,000 gallon limit per month means 33 gallons a day each. The average person uses 80-100 gallons a day. There is no leeway for farm animals.

When confronted with this situation, Napa County Director of Planning, Building, and Environment David Morrison stated that those living in rural areas must accept that we don’t have the amenities of those living within the city limits — like sidewalks — implying access to drinking water is an amenity.

Director Morrison, access to water is not an amenity. It is a right. And the county is culpable. In too many cases, our wells have been dried by the county’s refusing to consider the cumulative impact of development and well drilling in areas where neighbors report water problems. These reports are effectively ignored and dismissed as anecdotal. Groundwater is a complex issue, Director Morrison asserts. The lack of it, though, is not complex. Maybe it’s time for a moratorium on development until the complexities of groundwater are figured out.

Rural residents are not the only ones who are impacted. Trucked water may not be used for commercial purposes or for construction on property outside Napa city limits. There will be a cap on the amount of water a trucking company can haul. Those vineyards and wineries receiving “interruptible Ag water” will be required to cut back by 20% of 2020 usage. And while all of this is going on, the Groundwater Sustainability Agency Advisory Committee is trying to prove that there is no overdraft of the Napa County sub-basin.

Please, isn’t it time we look at the larger picture? In the June 9 meeting, Director Morrison stated there are 70-some water providers within Napa County. Napa city and American Canyon both purchase water from the North Bay Aqueduct, which the state has cut back to 5% of the usual allotment. Will there come a time when Napa city also needs to draw on groundwater? Isn’t it time we have an agency that coordinates all the water in Napa County? All of us will be making sacrifices and learning to live within our water budget, but let’s get our planners and builders on board as well. Otherwise, we will not all have adequate access to drinking water.