As part of an ongoing effort to assess the health of groundwater resources in Napa County, a committee wants to monitor groundwater levels and quality in 18 sites along the Napa Valley, in Angwin and in Pope Valley.
But finding 18 property owners willing to volunteer to have their wells modified and share the data with county government may prove difficult, Groundwater Resources Advisory Committee Chairman Peter McCrea told the Board of Supervisors on Tuesday.
He said the issue is that property owners could be wary of sharing any data about their wells because portions of the information could be subject to public disclosure through a public records request.
“That’s one of the things that really scares a lot of the landowners,” McCrea said. “The data on individual wells needs to be sheltered from public discovery. It’s going to be a real barrier to getting people to sign up for this.”
Napa County Counsel Minh Tran said the county can’t offer a guarantee that all information collected about privately owned wells wouldn’t be subject to disclosure through a public records request. He said changing state law could offer this protection, as other regions in California are examining groundwater-monitoring issues and may also want to offer such protection.
“It’s not just us who are looking at this,” Tran said.
Planning Director Hillary Gitelman said the idea is to assure property owners that the county would try to keep all the data confidential, and would notify them of any pending public records requests.
“Everyone is concerned about this topic,” Gitelman said. “When you’re asking for volunteers, you say, ‘We can’t give a 100 percent guarantee, but we will try our hardest.’”
Gitelman said property owners are wary of divulging whether they have a good well or a poor one, as that information could affect property values.
“I think property owners, pretty universally, don’t want to show that information,” Gitelman said.
As a prelude to this planning effort, in 2010, a consultant interviewed 34 people representing local governments, property-rights groups, agricultural and environmental organizations, and rural residents.
Some of the responses from agricultural and rural interests showed deep hesitancy for having the county get involved in groundwater, which they consider a critical aspect of private property.
These parties said confidentiality would have to be secured before any kind of monitoring could take place, and that they felt the monitoring could lead to the county trying to regulate or control groundwater.
The program is non-regulatory, and would measure groundwater height every year in the spring and the fall, and if the owners are willing, groundwater quality. The information would assist the county in better understanding how surface water interacts with groundwater supplies. Sixteen of the 18 sites are spread out along the course of the Napa Valley, from American Canyon and Carneros to Calistoga; the last two sites are in Angwin and Pope Valley.
The locations of wells, how the wells were constructed, and water elevation data will be confidential per state law, according to the committee.
The information gathered from privately owned wells would be kept in a database that would fill in gaps in data the county already collects from publicly monitored wells, according to a report from the advisory committee.
Since 2009, the county has been working to identify the overall condition, availability and quality of groundwater locally, so it can produce the most up-to-date and accurate water resources plans. It established the advisory committee in 2011.
Participation in the program would neither affect nor measure how an owner uses groundwater, and volunteers would be able to leave the program if they wished, according to the report.
During the meeting Tuesday, the supervisors offered a commitment that they would work to offer as much confidentiality as possible. Gitelman said the committee should finalize its recommendations by 2014.
Supervisor Keith Caldwell said a similar issue has arisen in the Milliken-Sarco-Tulocay area, where the county is also trying to gauge the condition of groundwater supplies.
“We provide the data but we do not provide the location,” Caldwell said.
McCrea said the advisory committee will learn more as it reaches out to agricultural groups and property owners in Napa County looking for volunteers.
“The proof will be when we go out and start talking to people,” McCrea said.
More information about the program is available at countyofnapa.org/bos/grac.