The City of St. Helena has agreed to monitor local groundwater levels and stream flows, averting a potential lawsuit from an environmental advocacy group.
Following months of negotiations, the city and Water Audit California released a joint statement Friday announcing the city will collect monthly water levels and annual extraction totals for local wells and provide a public, “scientifically useful” summary of the data.
The city will conduct a comprehensive review of its water system, develop new protocols for using the city’s own Stonebridge wells, and work with Water Audit on the installation of new stream gauges along the Napa River, York Creek and Sulphur Creek.
The city will also consider “impacts to public trust resources” in evaluating new well permits and water connections.
In a separate statement, the directors of Water Audit thanked city officials, saying “everyone worked very hard to reach this understanding.”
“Water Audit commends the City for its decision to adopt the principles of science and thereby lead the way for other Napa communities to fully understand the essential relationship of water to our lives,” the directors of Water Audit California said in a statement. “This substantially differs from the current myopic focus on groundwater.”
Grant Reynolds, a director of Water Audit, wrote to the city in mid-November claiming that groundwater extraction from the Stonebridge wells was reducing flows in the Napa River in a way that violated the public trust.
Reynolds’ letter threatened litigation in 45 days unless the city modified the use of the Stonebridge wells “to cease injury to the public trust,” set procedures for monitoring new and existing wells, and began approving new wells “only following consideration of cumulative extractions on public trust flows.”
Those demands closely match some of the steps outlined in Friday’s agreement.
Water Audit sued the city in 2016 over the diversion of water into Bell Canyon Reservoir. The city ultimately agreed to bypass more water into Bell Creek.
Water Audit threatened to sue the city again in 2017 over the stalled removal of the Upper York Creek Dam but ultimately took no legal action and praised the city for removing the dam in 2020.
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