Letter to the Editor, Napa Valley Register

A letter from the City of Napa Deputy Utilities Director Joy Eldredge to the Groundwater Sustainability Program Advisory Committee (GSPAC) brings into focus the flaw in the composition of the committee, and inevitably, the final Groundwater Sustainability Plan (GSP).

Eldredge points out that of the 25 stakeholders appointed by the Board of Supervisors (BOS), not one is a well driller or a representative from a water trucking agency, both of which know a great deal about groundwater within our county. GSPAC is heavily populated by members of the wine and business industries, a handful of environmentalists, and one scientist.

This is not a mistake. Almost all the subbasin water is used by the wine industry. A 2019 Napa Valley Register article reports that wineries and vineyards use 77-96% of the groundwater. In the first public comment session of GSPAC on September 19, 2021, Director Morrison claimed that the county was required to form a GSP because of the economic importance of the wine industry to California, a questionable assertion if you study the state documents which state that the county did not demonstrate sustainable water management of the subbasin. As a result, the county was required to form a Groundwater Sustainability Agency (GSA). The BOS proceeded to name themselves the GSA and then appointed the GSPAC to oversee the formation of a Groundwater Sustainability Plan (GSP). The plan is to be presented to the state by January 2022 for review.

Is the purpose of the GSP to ensure the wine industry continues to use the lion’s share of the groundwater, regardless of its impact on the streams and river and on the rest of us? What happens if the state cannot deliver water to the North Bay aqueduct which cities depend upon? What happens if city reservoirs do not fill? And what about the health of the river, which is dry this year in nontidal stretches?

The GSPAC states that it is only concerned with groundwater, not surface water. Surface water (as in our streams and river) and groundwater are the same water, just in different places. They feed each other. Is the over-pumping of nearby wells, such as those in St. Helena near the Napa River, dewatering our streams and river? This dewatering needs to be studied and stopped, and we can’t do this unless we measure and meter wells. If our creeks and river are not healthy, agriculture will falter.

According to Morrison, about 40 of the approximate 10,000 wells in the County are monitored. This is a paltry sampling. Just try to have your rural well included in this monitoring! You will probably be told they already have a nearby monitored well. Where is the interest in truly understanding why rural wells are being dewatered? Director Morrison stated that because residences with dry wells can be red-tagged, people are reluctant to report dry wells.

To red tag residences impacted by over-pumping of nearby wells not only shuts up rural populations but it is outrageously cruel. What about the residences whose owners cannot afford to drill deeper? In the short run, there needs to be a plan for those residents to receive adequate water that does not involve red-tagging.

Eldredge points out that unless we measure the outflow and recharge of groundwater wells in the county, we cannot know the state of water in Napa County. This will involve monitoring a lot more wells– optimally all wells. Is this on the agenda of the GSP?

Morrison says the subbasin is “stable” but that the aim is to make it “sustainable.” “Sustainable” management of the groundwater is not possible unless you consider the ag watershed lands whose runoff restores the subbasin aquifer. If we are in a megadrought, as some scientists suggest, “stable” will no longer be a term to describe the subbasin groundwater if surface water is not also considered. Is the health of the environment and water security for all of us a focus of this committee?

We cannot afford a sham report, and this is looking like it may be just that. We need water experts, not politicians, or special interests, studying how to best form water security for all.

The management of our water has become what appears to be a political process, not one based on science and on the actual facts both on and in the ground. And the horrible thing is that if we continue as we are, we are all going to suffer the worst of climate breakdown, in this case, lack of water.