Carneros Resort & Spa

This family pool is a part of the Carneros Resort & Spa, which opened in 2003 west of Napa but has struggled with its groundwater supply ever since. A water service deal endorsed by the City Council would provide the resort on Sonoma Highway with up to 43 acre-feet a year in a bid to eliminate the truck deliveries it now requires.

The answer to the Carneros Resort & Spa’s constant water quantity and quality problems may lie to its east – within the city of Napa.

An agreement to feed municipal water to the vineyard-lined vacation spot cleared a hurdle Tuesday afternoon when the City Council voted to support the plan, which is meant to wean the resort from inadequate groundwater supplies and the truck deliveries it now requires.

The pact, which still requires approval from an agency that governs the annexation of Napa County lands into cities, would connect the Carneros property to an existing pipeline a half-mile away and provide it with at least 33 acre-feet of water per year (nearly 11 million gallons) and as much as 43 acre-feet (14 million gallons), roughly the resort’s annual consumption.

About 15 acre-feet of water are trucked into the resort annually, or nearly a third of its needs, according to Phil Brun, deputy public works director. A county-issued permit caps its yearly groundwater draw to 28 acre-feet.

Discussions about replacing the deliveries with a pipe have pitted the benefits of taking trucks off rural roads against the fears of catapulting city-style growth into an agricultural area. In December, the county’s Local Area Formation Commission allowed the Carneros Resort to pursue a water deal with the city, but retains the right to accept or refuse the extension of water service beyond city boundaries.

Although the agreement would prohibit sending water beyond the resort or expanding on existing land uses there, some opponents still saw a hazard to the protection of vineyard lands – especially for a vacation area they said never should have been built given the water-supply problems.

Even a small-scale expansion of water service “sets a very dangerous public policy precedent, and we believe it is absolutely growth-inducing,” declared Ryan Klobas, policy director of the Napa County Farm Bureau. “LAFCO exists so that city services are not extended outward for a poor reason.”

Others worried that future droughts, and climate change that may make shortages longer and more severe, could leave Napa making a promise it cannot fulfill.

“If you guarantee 43 acre-feet a year to this property, and then the state cuts you off its water because there’s not enough snowpack that year, where you going to get the water?” Angwin resident Mike Hackett told the council, asking it not to risk forcing excessive cutbacks on city residents to meet a contract. “We can’t gamble on our water future.”

Brun, of the Public Works department, sought to assure council members of Napa’s solid water supplies and said the Carneros Resort’s water demand has remained consistent in recent years, suggesting a pipeline would simply move some of that supply out of trucks and off the roads.

If drought conditions lead California to demand mandatory water-use cuts from cities – as Gov. Jerry Brown did in 2016 – Napa’s contract will extract the same reductions from the Carneros Resort, according to City Attorney Michael Barrett.

Four councilmembers voted in favor of the water pact, the minimum needed to pass any plan to export Napa services to areas outside the city. The lone dissenter, Scott Sedgley, sought more time to nail down details of the contract – such as ensuring a wide enough pipeline to meet the resort’s needs – but agreed with the need to help those working and living there.

“The resort probably shouldn’t have been developed in the first place, but it was,” he said. “I believe it is our place to help provide a solution. I don’t think the resort should just dry up; it provides jobs, it provides tax revenue, and people live there.”

The water would sustain various properties spread over 27 acres at 4048 Sonoma Highway (Highway 12/121), including 86 resort cottages, 24 homes, 17 time-share residences as well as the Farm restaurant and the Boon Fly Café.

Annual water purchases by the resort’s water-service arm, the Carneros Mutual Water Co., are estimated at $97,000 to $126,000. The resort also is committing up to $1.75 million to Napa for city improvements to its water network, which may include a new 2-million-gallon storage tank off Browns Valley Road.

The city of Napa may pipe its water toward Carneros through the Congress Valley Water District, which already provides municipal water to local rural homes. Half a mile of new pipeline would be needed to bridge the gap from Old Sonoma Road to the resort, and would be paid for by resort owners, officials said.

Envisioned as relying only on groundwater like other rural parcels, the property originally called the Carneros Inn gained its county permit in 2002 and opened a year later. But its wells have fallen short of users’ needs, forcing owners to buy water, load it from city hydrants into trucks, and drive it through the wine country to Carneros.

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City of Napa/Town of Yountville Reporter

Howard Yune covers the city of Napa and the town of Yountville. 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.