Carneros Resort and Spa

A potential path is emerging for the rural Carneros Resort & Spa to pipe in city of Napa water, with local leaders possibly making decisions in 2018.

Napa County in the early 2000s envisioned the resort as relying solely on groundwater, as is typical with development in unincorporated areas. But wells haven’t provided enough water, and the resort buys and trucks in a portion of its water from the city of Napa.

Carneros Resort & Spa – formerly the Carneros Inn—wants to replace the trucks with a pipe. Discussions have focused on the benefit of removing the water trucks from the road versus the possibility of piped city water triggering urban-style growth in a rural area.

On Monday, the Napa County Local Agency Formation Commission (LAFCO) took a vote that essentially said “maybe” to the water piping request.

“We are opening a door without saying ‘yes,’” LAFCO Executive Officer Brendon Freeman said.

City Deputy Public Works Director Phil Brun said after the LAFCO meeting that Napa and Carneros Resort & Spa officials have discussed the possibility of the city providing piped water. A request could go to the City Council in early 2018, with a four-fifths vote needed to return the issue to LAFCO for a final decision.

Carneros Resort & Spa is located on 27 acres at 4048 Sonoma Highway amid agricultural land. The property includes such features as 86 units ranging from cottages to suites, 24 homes and the Boon Fly Café.

A county-approved use permit limits the resort to extracting 28 acre feet of groundwater annually, a LAFCO report said. Yet the resort uses about 42 acre feet of water annually, requiring it to truck in city water taken from city fire hydrants. It does so through its Carneros Inn Mutual Water Company.

Carneros Resort & Spa officials have said the problem with groundwater is both quantity and quality. The present owners have said they are working to solve a problem that they inherited from previous ownership.

Replacing the trucks with piped water isn’t as simple as extending an existing water pipe for a half-mile down Old Sonoma Road. Various state and local rules designed to protect unincorporated areas from possible growth-inducing effects of urban services must be navigated.

One option is to pipe in city water to the resort through the Congress Valley Water District, which already brings city water to nearby rural homes. The district was formed in 1949, before today’s state laws that complicate extending urban services to rural areas existed.

LAFCO declined on Monday to include Carneros Resort & Spa within the sphere of influence for Congress Valley Water District. Commission policies do not support the extension, the LAFCO report said. Nor can the district provide water for commercial uses.

However, the LAFCO’s updated Congress Valley Water District services report also cited the need for public water at the resort.

That finding of deficiency opened the door to another option – piping city water to the resort under the provisions of 2015 state legislation sponsored by then-Assemblyman Bill Dodd, D-Napa. Dodd is presently a state senator.

The Dodd legislation allows the Napa and San Bernardino county LAFCOs to extend urban services to rural areas without pending urban annexations or public health threats. LAFCO must find the service will not hurt agricultural land or be growth inducing. The law applies only to a use existing or planned before July 1, 2015.

Dodd successfully sponsored the pilot program legislation with the support of the Napa County. Napa County argued the law helps prevent urban sprawl by allowing urban service extensions under non-emergency conditions without requiring annexations to cities.

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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.