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Napa City Council approves additional water restrictions

Water

The Napa City Council voted Tuesday to restrict the trucking of water out of the city and limit most outdoor irrigation to two days each week.

Through the council action, the city is hoping to cut community water use by 20% this year when compared to 2020. The city’s goal is to preserve water stored in Lake Hennessey, Napa’s primary local source of water, in the midst of California’s 2021 drought. The lake is at 63% capacity as of July 13 and water storage has dropped considerably in recent years because of low runoff the past two winters.

“The fact of the matter is we’re close to scraping the bottom of the pool,” said city utilities director Phil Brun. “And when Hennessey looks like an empty pool, that’s really ugly for our community.”

Napa also receives water from the State Water Project’s North Bay Aqueduct, but the state allocation is only 5% this year because of the drought.

The restrictions will come into effect next week. The primary new limitation for city residents is a ban on outdoor irrigation on all but two days each week, with a few exceptions.

Napa County residents who rely on trucked water from city hydrants are facing a new, 6,000 gallons per month limit per parcel, restricted to indoor domestic use. Water can still be trucked to construction sites for properties that are or will be served by the city’s water system. All other commercial and irrigation use of trucked water will be prohibited.

And interruptible agriculture irrigation contract customers of city water are being asked to reduce their water usage from 20% of usage last year. The availability of water for those customers in 2022 is uncertain, according to a staff presentation.

City residents will still be allowed to use drip and micro-irrigation systems on all days. Watering by hand is also allowed, with either a watering can or a hose fitted with a shutoff nozzle. Conventional spray irrigation systems may also be activated on all days, on a limited basis, for testing, maintenance, or repair purposes.

Conventional spray irrigation will only be allowed two days a week; the specific days depend on whether a resident’s street address ends in either an odd or even number. Properties with addresses ending in even numbers can operate irrigation on Mondays and Thursdays, while properties with addresses ending in odd numbers can only irrigate on Tuesdays and Fridays.

The council previously voted to declare a “moderate water shortage” and return to drought restrictions in May. Under those restrictions, which remain in effect, Napans aren’t allowed to irrigate between 10 a.m. and 5 p.m. or on consecutive days.

Napa residents also aren’t allowed to water greenery during rain or within 48 hours of measurable rainfall, wash motor vehicles with open-ended hoses, or use drinking water to wash a driveway or sidewalk unless necessary for safety reasons. Additionally, sprinklers aren’t allowed to create excessive flowing runoff; swimming pools aren’t allowed to be drained and refilled unless for pool repair or to correct a severe chemical balance; hotels and motels are required to provide an option of not having towels and linens laundered daily, and restaurants are supposed to wait to provide water until requested by a customer.

The city hoped those restrictions would reduce community water usage by 15%. Instead, the city saw an increase in water usage compared to last year, according to deputy utilities director Joy Eldredge.

The city will initially approach the new restrictions by providing information, including by sending mailer notifications on July 23, but will begin patrolling the streets for outreach in August and may begin enforcing the restrictions by mid-August. If residents are found in violation of the restrictions early on, city staff members may leave a door hanger at the property that says how the resident didn’t comply with the restrictions and provides outdoor water conservation tips.

If enforcement takes off, fines start at $100, rise to $200 for a second violation within 12 months and cap at $500 for each day of each additional violation within 12 months. Eldredge said the fines won’t come as a surprise, and will only happen after residents who violate the rules are warned that their next violation will result in a fine.

Public commenters at the meeting raised several questions about water use. Eve Kahn said she was worried about how many more housing units the city can support given the water restrictions. A few commenters raised questions about Napa State Hospital water use.

Kevin Bingham of Bingham’s Potable Water Delivery in Napa said the trucked water restrictions didn’t take into account people who had horses, cows or sheep — he estimated that a horse drinks 1,200 gallons of water each month. Bingham also said he serves people in Napa County who have no access to water on their property. He said they’re trying to drill wells as fast as they can, but urged the council to consider exceptions to the water delivery restrictions.

As a result of council discussion, the trucked water limitations were raised to 6,000 gallons per parcel per month from 4,000 gallons.

Several council members said they were worried about limiting trucked water so suddenly. Councilmember Liz Alessio suggested that staff should come back at a future meeting to present ideas on how to handle critical water needs in the county. Alessio also said she wanted a monthly update on the city’s water situation.

Mayor Scott Sedgley said trucked water is supposed to be a temporary solution, and that the city can’t get into a position where outside water delivery is the norm. But he supported raising the trucked water limit.

“Mother Nature has not given us any more time. This is the real deal. We have to take action that is going to make a difference,” Sedgley said.

Editor's note: This item has been modified to correct the limits on trucked water.

Cal Fire has a Sikorsky S70i Cal Fire Hawk water-dropping helicopter based in Lake County that can reach north Napa County fires in five minutes.

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You can reach Edward Booth at (707) 256-2213.

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