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Napa, BottleRock seek water savings as Expo receives new grass before music festival

In the 26 months since musicians last left their stages at BottleRock, festival leaders have faced the hurdles of a historic pandemic, a sweeping stay-home order and heightened wildfire risks in their effort to bring bands and fans back to downtown Napa.

Now BottleRock promoters are facing a new challenge: a statewide drought that has led to water-use restrictions just as new grass is being laid down at the Napa Valley Expo for the tens of thousands of music lovers expected to pack the grounds for three days in early September.

Directors of the state-owned fairground on Third Street, along with BottleRock producer Latitude 38 Entertainment, are overseeing the re-sodding after more than a year of idleness at the Expo, with irrigation equipment in need of repair and a recent city policy limiting watering to two nights per week. Over the past week, workers have unloaded and laid down numerous rolls of fresh turf by forklift, tractor and hand — partly using a less thirsty grass variety and leaning more heavily on non-drinkable recycled water to lessen the load on city reservoirs.

“We’re fully committed to water efficiency, but we really need to resurrect the grounds as we return to normal activity and operations because these grounds are the way we generate our revenue,” said Joe Anderson, the Expo’s longtime chief executive who retired a year ago but has stayed on as a part-time manager.

Turf installation, which is being paid for by Latitude 38, is taking place on a lawn that normally hosts the midway of the Napa Town & Country Fair. Beyond the need to provide safe footing for an audience that has totaled about 120,000 in recent years, the Expo also had to catch up with more than a year of upkeep deferred as the fairground sat dormant without events or revenue, and only a skeleton staff to oversee the property, after California imposed social distancing orders in March 2020.

“A lot of systems were manually controlled so we needed real humans working on them, and we weren’t able to maintain revenue or maintain the grounds,” said Jeri Hansen, president of the Expo board. “We focused our operations on local public health, the COVID testing, vaccinations, the homeless shelter (a normally winter-only operation which stayed open for 19 months to protect unhoused people from the virus). But a year-plus of no maintenance had a negative impact on the property.”

Nonetheless, Expo and Latitude 38 directors several months ago began discussing how to re-sod the fairground’s main lawns for a revived BottleRock, even as a historically dry winter shrank water supplies statewide and eventually forced water-use curbs in Napa and elsewhere.

The Expo has repaired and overhauled piping and sprinkler heads on the property, and spent $25,000 to update its irrigation system with sensor-based controls to further limit consumption, according to Anderson.

Meanwhile, the Expo is turning to supplies of reclaimed water provided by the Napa Sanitation District to work around city water-use restrictions intended to slash consumption by 20% over last year’s levels. The rules, which took effect the same week as the Expo’s replanting, allow conventional spray irrigation only two days a week, and only before 10 a.m. or after 5 p.m. to lessen evaporation losses. Water users also are required to avoid excessive runoff onto hard surfaces, under a city regulation passed in May.

City staff visited the Expo early last week to detail Napa’s water-use curbs with workers installing the fairground’s new turf, according to Joy Eldredge, manager of the city Water Division, who said the visit followed social media posting remarking on the fairground re-sodding during a time of drought.

“We’re trying to get that 20% cut, and we know it’s that irrigation water that makes a difference,” she said. “We’re treating everyone the same.”

Parts of the Expo grounds are being planted with a hybrid Bermuda grass with higher drought tolerance, and watering has been stopped entirely in certain areas considered “unnecessary” for BottleRock foot traffic, the festival’s spokesperson Tom Fuller said in a statement Wednesday. During a reporter’s visit earlier in the day, portions such as the strips of grass bracketing Zinfandel Hall appeared more yellow than green after several rainless months.

This year’s BottleRock — the first since producers canceled the 2020 festival due to the pandemic — will take place Labor Day weekend, Sept. 3-5, pushed back from its normal late-May schedule. Major artists slated to perform will include Guns N' Roses, Foo Fighters, Stevie Nicks, Miley Cyrus and Megan Thee Stallion.

The Golden State produces a third of the nation's fruit and vegetables which are vital countrywide. However, this year, drought has brought California's farming industry to its knees. California Farmers Union Vice President George Davis, who runs his own farm in Sonoma County, has experienced first-hand the devastating toll drought can take. Source by: Stringr

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You can reach Howard Yune at 530-763-2266 or hyune@napanews.com

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Public Safety Reporter

Howard Yune covers public safety for the Napa Valley Register. He has been a reporter and photographer for the Register since 2011, and previously wrote for the Marysville Appeal-Democrat, Anaheim Bulletin and Coos Bay (Oregon) World.

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BottleRock 2021 has announced an all-star line-up of chefs who will team up with musicians on the Williams Sonoma Culinary stage at the festival on Sept. 3-5. 

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