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Environmental group threatens to sue St. Helena over groundwater extraction

Environmental group threatens to sue St. Helena over groundwater extraction

Stonebridge wells

Groundwater from the Stonebridge wells near the Pope Street Bridge is an integral part of St. Helena's water system.

An environmental advocacy group is threatening to sue the City of St. Helena over its handling of groundwater.

Grant Reynolds, a director of Water Audit California, delivered a letter to the city on Monday criticizing its use of the Stonebridge wells for municipal use and “a pattern of exercising no discretion” in issuing permits for new wells.

Reynolds said Water Audit will begin litigation in 45 days unless the city resolves to modify its use of the Stonebridge wells “to cease injury to the public trust,” sets procedures for monitoring new and existing wells, and begins approving new wells “only following consideration of cumulative extractions on public trust flows.”

City Attorney Ethan Walsh said the city hasn’t had time to evaluate the letter or discuss it internally and therefore has no comment.

Water Audit sued the City of St. Helena in 2016 over the diversion of water into Bell Canyon Reservoir, which resulted in the city agreeing to bypass more water into Bell Creek. Water Audit threatened to sue the city over the stalled removal of the Upper York Creek Dam in 2017, but ultimately took no action. The dam was removed this summer.

Water Audit also sued the Department of Veterans Affairs, the owner and operator of Rector Dam, in 2016 for allegedly diverting too much water into Rector Reservoir and damaging downstream fish habitats.

Before forming Water Audit, Reynolds was involved in years of litigation against the City of Calistoga over its use of water at Kimball Dam.

Reynolds’ latest letter echoes concerns he raised leading up to the approval of the Farmstead hotel project, which he said “could potentially authorize a demand on groundwater resources that may have already been overdrawn.”

“Groundwater extraction that dewaters the Napa River or its tributaries is illegal,” Reynolds wrote in a Sept. 17 letter.

In an Aug. 17 letter, Reynolds cited an “initial review of available data” suggesting that the city’s extraction of groundwater from the Stonebridge wells “has frequently reduced or eliminated the proximate flows in the Napa River required by the public trust.”

Reynolds’ latest letter claims the city has ignored the groundwater issue “for over a decade,” “building its water policy and authorizing development based upon water obtained by misappropriation of the public trust.”

St. Helena’s three primary water sources are Bell Canyon Reservoir, the Stonebridge wells, and water purchased through a contract with the City of Napa.

According to a staff report from June, the city had drawn an average of 300 acre-feet or less from the wells over the previous eight years. The 2011 Safe Yield Report recommended limiting average use of the wells to 450 acre-feet per year.

The city is in a Phase II water emergency, with Bell Canyon at 38.8% of capacity. Earlier this year the city “optimized” its use of Napa water and the Stonebridge wells to conserve water in the reservoir.

Watch Now: Here are a few ways to save on your water bill

If you’ve noticed your water bill is higher than usual or climbing, there are a few ways you can try to decrease it! Buzz60’s Mercer Morrison has the story.

Photos: Faces and Places, November 15

You can reach Jesse Duarte at 967-6803 or

You can reach Jesse Duarte at 967-6803 or

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A letter from Grant Reynolds, a director of Water Audit, threatens litigation unless the city takes steps to modify its use of the Stonebridge…

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