On Dec. 19, 2016, the Register carried on article, "County Touts Water Plans," summarizing the Board of Supervisors' approval of the GSP-Alt plan which (in order to meet the requirements of the California Groundwater Management Act of 2014) is to be submitted to the State Department of Water Resources in lieu of forming a groundwater sustainability agency.
This act, which was designed to prevent unbridled over-draughting of ground water and to afford greater transparency and opportunity for public input, also allowed the procedure chosen by Napa, when various requirements were met. It provided a time period for the public's input, which ended Feb. 14.
Over the past several years, Napa Valley has experienced an ever-increasing growth in the number of vineyards and wineries accompanied by a proliferation in the numbers of wells and demands on ground water as more and more projects have shifted away from dry farming. Also, as proper farm land on the valley floor has been exhausted, more and more parties have sought and received approval by the planning commission and board of supervisors to farm the woodland hillsides which has resulted in the removal of untold numbers (undoubtedly in the hundreds of thousands) of centuries-old oaks from the watershed which in turn affects groundwater.
The presentation on which the Supervisors acted in December stressed that "a central feature of the Act (SGMA) is the recognition that groundwater management in California is best accomplished locally." I think the validity of this assumption is contradicted by the disastrous results in many of California counties, e.g., land sinking up to two inches a month in the Central Valley caused by massive over-draught of its aquifers and a poignant article in the August 2016 issue of the National Geographic, which chronicled the disastrous results for many communities across the entire central portion of our county, caused by the over-draught of the Ogallala/High Plains aquifer. Undue self-interest, greed and political pressure too often override good judgment and scientific analysis when decisions for all citizens are considered.
If one accepts that one of the intents of SGMA was to include the concerns, input and suggested solutions of affected citizens, I think that, despite the hard work and helpfulness of some civil servants, this intent was not met in Napa. Most of the data and conclusions required extensive review of relevant materials for the public to be able to understand and interact in a cogent fashion, which was not possible due to its very restricted availability.
Public meetings were announced with short notice; documents to be discussed and analyzed were in short supply, if available at all, and there was never time (3 minutes usually) for the affected citizenry to engage in meaningful dialog. It was not difficult to leave the meetings/hearings with the feeling that decisions had been made much earlier and the outcome had been a forgone decision.
A major concern involves an issue raised at a meeting of WICC, when one of the commissioners questioned the validity/reliability of the data presented by the consultants and used to support the Alt-Plan, viz., conclusions based on data collected from a very small sample of wells clustered near the Napa River raising the question of "cherry picking" the data.
Another requirement for an Alt-Plan to be acceptable requires evidence of 10 years of sustainable yield of groundwater. It appears this conclusion is not met because it was drawn by intermingling data from different wells across time, which, again, amounts to a major sampling error.
Another issue raised at the WICC meeting continued the use of drain-tile systems and its impact on ground water supplies. The handout indicated they had no data on the subject. However, casual observation suggests that huge amounts of ground water are being pumped into drainage ditches that flow to the Napa River, unlike earlier times when farmers pumped that water into mini-reservoirs/ponds for use during the summer.
The consultants' reports, other documents and presentations at the Board of Supervisors meeting made it clear that GSP-Alt does not apply to all the people living/farming, etc., in the entire county. It excludes our watershed and known locations with poor ground water. In my opinion, this creates a rather bizarre and untenable situation of how our elected officials can provide for necessary and expected governmental services to a large number of residents by excluding them from the plan while, at the same time, despite water rationing, cities and the county continue to "sell" water to certain businesses. Wineries and vineyards continue to be approved despite protests by neighbors -- often numbering in the hundreds -- noting their negative impact on ground water and water-related issues affecting the long-term residents making the rational for such decisions unclear and difficult to understand.
Stephen J. Donoviel