Reported by Iris Barrie and Gary Margadant

We can all imagine what would happen if cities in Napa County stopped using water meters for their residential and business customers. But currently, many rural residents, including the largest water users, the vineyards and wineries, who rely primarily on well water, are not required to use a meter to monitor their usage. We cannot manage what we do not measure.

Water transfers are rapidly increasing all over the county: new and deeper wells are being drilled as current ones run dry; more water is being trucked in to supplement the supply for residents, current and new vineyards, and estates; water tanks are being built to store water. To satisfy this unquenchable thirst to maximize grape growing and wine production, we are sucking the Napa river and creeks dry.

Napa County formed a Groundwater Sustainability Agency per direction of the state, in order to maintain local control. The Napa County Board of Supervisors appointed themselves as this acting agency. They then formed the Groundwater Sustainability Plan Advisory Committee of local business agencies and residents, and together they are charged with creating a Groundwater Sustainability Plan (GSP) which has been mandated by the state. A final draft of the GSP is due to the agency’s Board of Directors by November 1, 2021, and must be submitted to the state water board by January 31, 2022.

To understand the public’s concerns and answer their questions, there have been public meetings held on September 22 and 29, with one more, via Zoom, scheduled for October 6. At these meetings, we were told that the water level in the ground is stable, but not sustainable. In other words, water in the ground is enough to supply current users and does not appear to be falling. However, we ask how accurate that assessment may be

The problem with this conclusion is in how it was determined: estimates of water consumption, rainfall records, and water level measurements were compiled from a small number of wells and their locations. This data was not provided at the meeting. Because we know that few water meters were used to measure the water pumped out of the ground, is this estimate accurate enough to provide a good measure of groundwater sustainability? When representatives of the Dry Creek Road Alliance expressed concern to the committee about their drying wells not being adequate for the needs of residents and industry in their community, they were told that the one nearby monitoring well in their area was enough to verify the condition of the aquifer.

Issues the GSA has failed to adequately consider are how activity in the watershed and oak woodlands contributes to groundwater sustainability on the valley floor subbasin. It is also not addressing how surface water and groundwater are connected. Data regarding the Napa River is not being used. And, it has not considered how rainfall is critical to groundwater recharge.

Without these additional meters – and transparency to the public about the usage they indicate – the Board of Supervisors, and the residents they represent, will not be able to adequately evaluate what measures to include in the Groundwater Sustainability Plan. This data is imperative to ensure that Napa County residents, and the wine industry, manage their water resources wisely.