SodaCanyonRoad | More needs to be done to protect groundwater

More needs to be done to protect groundwater
Daniel Mufson | Oct 17, 2023 on: Watershed Issues

“We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all are endowed with certain inalienable rights…among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness and, an adequate supply of fresh water.”

Recent articles have described the uncontrolled growth of wine tourism in Napa. The county does not seem to track cumulative impacts of this growth on traffic, greenhouse gas emissions or water usage. There is not a firm understanding of how much groundwater is stored in the valley floor, nor any clear idea about the capacity of the watersheds. However, there is now an understanding that we are currently using groundwater at an unsustainable rate.

To remedy our situation, studies will be called for, new wells dug to judge water levels, but still there is no clear data on how much water is used and by whom. Until recently, the general rule has been that each parcel can use an acre foot (about 326,000 gallons) per acre to irrigate or process wine, but in January 2022, as a part of the Groundwater Sustainability Plan approved the California Department of Water Resources, that rule was modified to limit use of new wells on the valley floor to 0.3 af per acre. Domestic wells are considered de minimis users and are exempt from this ruling.

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Although this change in law limits the pumping of new wells, it does little to regulate the numerous wells on the valley floor already in operation. One property can use more water than an adjacent property just because of the date its well was drilled, and a property can use so much water that the water table drops, depriving neighbors of water, even if that pumping is allowed by the existing regulations. This is the lesson of “The Tragedy of the Commons.” The tragedy of the commons refers to a situation in which individuals with access to a public resource (also called a common) act in their own interest and, in doing so, ultimately deplete the resource.

A recent New York Times study of the aquifers in United States warns that we are using more water than can be restored, and, as a result, we are running out of water. Agriculture is the main user. In Napa County, agriculture uses up to 72% of the known groundwater.

It is long past due that Napa Country should require water meters on all wells along with an automated meter reading (AMR) and real-time consumption data. Joy Eldredge, manager of the city of Napa's water supply department, stated this two years ago when serving on the Ground Water Sustainability Plan Advisory Committee: “To ensure a sustainable groundwater supply, outflow and recharge must be quantified. It is difficult to comprehend long-term management of the resource so long as the extraction and use of the resource is not understood.” “We simply cannot accurately study what we do not adequately measure.”

Sadly, Ms. Eldredge’s thoughtful, intelligent presentation was moved to the end of several meeting agendas and somehow not gotten to, for several sessions and then shortened. This critical concept seems to be anathema to Napa Country and some in the agricultural community. This attitude is foolish!" it’s akin to having a family checking account without any controls on who is writing checks.

Groundwater agencies in Sonoma, Santa Cruz and others have come to realize the need to meter and report all non-domestic wells:

Collection and reporting of well flow data are integral to enable proactive and adaptive management of groundwater resources and documentation of seasonal fluctuation in water demand. This data is more accurate than evapotranspiration estimates and will provide additional data for model calibration. In addition to providing an estimate of groundwater production, groundwater flow data may be used by the CBGSA in conjunction with groundwater level data to improve understanding of groundwater basin conditions. This is especially important for sustainable regional management of groundwater resources.

That makes sense. Any thinking person knows that metering is necessary to ensure reasonable and fair sharing of this life-giving resource. So when will Napa County do the right thing? Are they really going to wait until 2040?

NVR Version 10/14/23: More needs to be done to protect groundwater