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Water restrictions may worsen with another dry winter

Fuller Park water sign

A city sign at Fuller Park declares the city has reduced irrigation in the park. 

Water conservation efforts have been cranking into high gear across California, as local governments adjust to drought conditions and prepare for an uncertain water future.

Napa is no different: All five Napa County municipalities have taken on water conservation measures. What comes next will depend upon the rainfall this winter, said city of Napa deputy utilities director Joy Eldredge. If it’s a dry year once again — Napa received 10 inches of rain last year, compared to about 27 inches in a normal year, according to Eldredge — water use could be restricted even further.

Last week, the Napa City Council voted to limit most outdoor irrigation to two days each week and limit water trucked out of the county to 6,000 gallons per month per property, among other restrictions. In the winter months, starting in November, irrigation will be further limited to one day a week — though that will be beyond the main watering months and into the rainy season, said Eldredge.  The city has also reduced irrigation in its parks.

In the city of Napa, a dry winter could mean the irrigation restrictions last into next year, or even go down to one day a week, Eldredge said. Cutting down on irrigation is the easiest way to make a difference, she added, and mostly just impacts the aesthetics of land and plants.

If the water situation is really grim, the city could look toward cutting back irrigation entirely and going toward water allotments, Eldredge said.

“It’s just important that everybody does their part this year because we don’t know what the winter holds,” Eldredge said. “It’s our goal to not get to something really prescriptive. Let’s be smart with what we have now so we don’t get there.”

The city’s main goal is to cut community water use by 20% when compared to 2020. Doing so will preserve about 54% of the water stored in Lake Hennessey, the city’s main source of water, going into November.

“We don’t like to take things all the way down,” Eldredge said. “We want to always have that cushion there and be ready.”

The reservoir is at the lowest water level since the 2012-2016 California drought, according to a staff presentation. Indeed, because of the low water levels city staff decided last Friday that the Lake Hennessey Boat Dock will be closed beginning Aug. 13 for safety reasons and to protect water quality.

The city also receives an allocation from the State Water Project, which Eldredge said has historically helped the city’s water reliability. But the California Department of Water Resources dropped the expected allocation to 5% of requested supplies in March following a second straight dry winter, for the purpose of conserving water in state reservoirs.

Typically, Eldredge said, a reservoir can be expected to rise 10% to 15% from snow melt in the spring, even if there hasn’t been much rain that year. But that largely didn’t turn out well this, she said, because the parched ground soaked up the water before it could hit the reservoirs.

“Everything’s parched,” Eldredge said. "That’s kind of why we're cautious about next year and the following year. Let’s get in the right habits now. It’s shaping like it’s going to be a multi-year recovery.”

Eldredge said it’s important for everyone to be doing their part to reduce water use now, before conservation efforts need to go further.

“You can hope, but you can’t live on hope,” Eldredge said. “You can hope for the best, but you can’t plan on that.”

After a year of hosting meetings on Zoom, the Napa City Council returned to in-person meetings on July 20.

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

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