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City of Napa looks at drought-related water-trucking restrictions

Water trucking

Kevin Bingham, owner of Bingham's Potable Water Delivery at left, speaks with manager Doug De Vaul after filling a pair of water hauling trucks in north Napa in December 2014.

Amid a reservoir-sapping drought, Napa may reduce the amount of water trucked from its boundaries to rural homes and farms — a move that would hit even as rural users themselves deal with the drought.

For the city, the move is about water conservation.

"We’ve got to be proactive to what we do and make sure we are not letting ourselves get into an extreme situation as we go forward,” city Deputy Utilities Director Joy Eldredge said.

Kevin Bingham of Bingham's Potable Water Delivery in Napa hauls water to rural homes that face such issues as wells drying out and broken pumps. He said the city's proposed water-cutting restrictions would hit some rural residents hard.

"It's going to have a devastating effect," he said on Monday.

Napa wants to step up water conservation. The City Council on July 20 is to consider a number of proposed measures, with ones for its own residents and businesses still to be announced.

But the city last Friday previewed possible cuts for water hauled to destinations outside of city limits, such as homes with subpar or failing wells and vineyards that need extra water. It addressed water-trucking proposals during a Zoom meeting for interested parties.

Various companies have agreements with the city that allow them to buy and haul water. The city amid the drought proposes to limit water trucked from its hydrants for only the following purposes:

• Indoor water use at homes, with a limit of 4,000 gallons per month per property.

• Construction sites, but only for those that are or will be served by the city’s water system.

Eldredge elaborated on the proposed residential restrictions of 4,000 gallons per month and none for irrigation.

“These are homeowners that have issues with their well … this is to keep them with the indoor basics,” Eldredge said. “To be able to wash clothes, have drinking water.”

According to the state Legislative Analyst’s Office, average residential water use in California is 85 gallons of water per person daily. That means the average two-person household uses about 5,000 gallons a month.

Bingham on Monday said some properties have two or three homes. That limit of 4,000 gallons a month per property might have to serve seven people and their animals.

"People will be out of water," Bingham said.

His company has 200 to 300 people wanting water at some point during a month, Bingham said.

Rural resident Dan Mufson said he has several neighbors in the Atlas Peak area with shaky water supplies. He summed up the worry for those who depend on wells: “Is this the day it’s going to fail?”

Mufson during the Friday Zoom meeting asked that Napa County act to address what he called a water emergency and take a comprehensive look at water use, whether groundwater or surface water or state water.

Trucked water for vineyards is not on the proposed list of allowable uses that the City Council will consider on Tuesday. City officials said those users might be able to truck in recycled water from the Napa Sanitation District.

Water-haulers in 2020 hauled 85 acre-feet of city of Napa water. The California Water Education Foundation says the average family uses a half-acre to an acre-foot each year.

Haulers pay $9.33 per 1,000 gallons. They also pay a $10-a-day service charge or $50 for seven days and make a $1,750 deposit for a hydrant meter which is refunded when the meter is returned to the city with no damage.

The city last year had a peak of 66 temporary hydrant meters issued. Presently, there are 50 temporary hydrant meters issued. Eldredge said about 30 appear to be for construction projects.

Lake Hennessey reservoir in the mountains east of Rutherford provides water to the city of Napa and is is 63% full. Eldredge said about 10 inches of rain fell there this past rainy season, compared to the average of about 27 inches.

The city of Napa also receives water from the Sacramento-San Joaquin Delta through the State Water Project’s North Bay Aqueduct. The state allocation this year is 5% after the drought sapped the Sierra Nevada snowpack.

“This is a year of years,” Eldredge said.

The city in May adopted restrictions designed to cut city water use by 15%. But Eldredge said water demand instead rose in May and June compared to the prior year amid hot weather. To make up for lost ground, the city might now seek a 20% water reduction.

The goal is to enter next rainy season with Lake Hennessey being no lower than 54% full, Eldredge said.

Water-hauling from local cities to rural destinations has long been controversial when done to fill permanent water gaps, rather than addressing temporary ones. The  2020 Napa Countywide Water and Wastewater study discussed the issue.

“Provision of trucked water without limitations has the potential to promote remote development and growth in unincorporated areas where water supply is not sustainable, and which may adversely affect agricultural uses,” the study said.

The study recommended that the city of Napa set limits on the trucking of water to rural areas. If the city follows through, it could at some point go beyond temporary drought-related restrictions.

Perhaps the most high-profile Napa County water trucking situation in recent years involved the Carneros Resort and Spa. The resort ended up trucking in city of Napa water on a regular basis, even though the county intended it to use well water.

Eldredge said the Carneros Resort and Spa has stopped trucking water. The solution arrived at by the county and city involved installing a pipe to supply the resort with a limited amount of city water.

Present-day owners of the Carneros Resort and Spa said in 2019 that they inherited the water situation there from the previous owner.

A new dance hall and wine bar has been proposed for downtown Napa. Called Slow Fox Dance Hall, the business plans to open on Main Street in the coming months. Take a peek at some fancy footwork from Slow Fox dancers.

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Napa County Reporter

Barry Eberling covers Napa County government, transportation, the environment and general assignments. He has worked for the Napa Valley Register since fall 2014 and previously worked 27 years for the Daily Republic of Fairfield.

Related to this story

Letters: All of us will be making sacrifices and learning to live within our water budget, but let’s get our planners and builders on board as well.

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