Eyes on Napa - May 9, 2022
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Hidden Figures?
Magical Thinking and Burying Data Will Not Solve our Water Crises
“My water pressure has been decreasing steadily for the past two days. As of tonight there is not enough water to use my washing machine, dishwasher or take a shower. I have a good well and a two year old pump. I suspect that someone nearby is drawing an inordinate amount of water from the aquifer we happen to share. I have lived here for 39 years and this has been happening periodically for the past four years, never before. It seems to always begin on a Thursday and by Sunday morning the water pressure miraculously returns. In the past, I have contacted the county planning department and the Board of Supervisors without any results...On the chance that someone reading this is using an extreme amount of water I want you to know you are affecting my quality of life.” — resident, Coombsville, from Next Door posting May 2, 2022

The Water Wars are beginning again, and while the City of Napa took action over the last year to address the city’s water security, our county government continued with business as usual, permitting more projects and wells. Our county appears to be allergic to inconvenient truths. In fact, it appears county staff disguised the fact the aquifer underlying our valley is in overdraft and has been for at least five of the last seven years. (See Napa County raises red flag on groundwater) As a result, our draft Groundwater Sustainability Plan (GSP) is deeply flawed.

The public comment period to the California Department of Water Resources (DWR) for the draft GSP closed on April 30, 2022. We attach two powerful letters submitted to the DWR, one by the Sierra Club Napa Group and the other by Dr. Amber Manfree. “The draft GSP only prepares us for an impossibly optimistic best-case scenario,” Dr. Manfree writes. “It does so by overestimating the reliability of surface water supplies and through a failure to measure groundwater and connected surface water. This puts Napa’s environmental users of water, residents, and businesses in a poor position for managing the shared groundwater resource.”

Sierra Club Napa Group’s letter goes beyond the Napa Register’s report of overdraft, referring to a Luhdorff and Scalmonini report showing the subbasin has been in overdraft since 2012 (see graph, Figure 6-7 (pg 199) in the 2020 Napa Annual Groundwater Report).

“The repeated overdraft condition is an indicator of a groundwater management problem. It does not mean that the storage is decreasing in the short run but does indicate that if current management practices persist and usage grows or the climate becomes drier and hotter, current practices will lead to triggering of all indicators of adverse conditions,” reported the Sierra Club's letter. 

How did Napa County get by with this? They knew that we were in overdraft. In 2021, 22,840 acre-feet of water was pumped from the ground. 15,000 acre-feet is considered sustainable. See NVR article.  Director David Morrison stated only that we need to reduce groundwater pumping by 10%. Is this another situation in which the wine industry, which pumps up to 97% of the subbasin groundwater, has prevented a serious look at water security in our county?

Will the DWR pay attention to the smoke and mirrors approach to Napa County’s groundwater management?  

For more on the groundwater situation, see:

What is Napa County doing to manage its groundwater sustainability? Not nearly enough, by Iris Barrie and Gary Margadant

Graph below, Figure 6-7 (pg 199) in the 2020 Napa Annual Groundwater Report

How is your well doing this year? Let us know. 
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Eyes on Napa: Co-editors, Patricia Damery and Debby Fortune, Editorial Board: Eve Kahn, Gary Margadant, Rusty Cohn, Iris Barrie. Contact the editors at