The pair of ornamental trees flanking our home’s entry are nearly dead now and the lawn is straw. It’s late August in Calistoga, where we’ve been on mandatory water rationing since March 1; if a recent July 15 study by the UC Davis Center for Watershed Sciences is correct, then we’re headed for a fourth year of drought regardless of El Nino conditions.
The same researchers published an analysis in the journal Environmental Research Letters, maintaining that the state of California has allocated five times more surface water to places like the Napa Valley than the state actually has, making it difficult for regulators to tell whose supplies should be cut during a drought: all of which is particularly concerning in light of the aggressive new development targeted for our small valley.
While county development projects appear at last to be receiving the critical attention they deserve, there appears to be little conversation regarding the cumulative impacts of approved county projects combined with those municipal.
In Calistoga, for instance, plans for aggressive resort development are well on their way: the Indian Springs Resort expansion is currently in progress with completion expected later this year; the Silver Rose Resort is expected to begin construction in late summer; and nothing is stopping the construction of the Calistoga Hills Resort but a CalFire-approved timber harvest plan and a buyer willing to spend well over a million dollars for each of its 88 unimproved acres.
Included in Calistoga’s combined resort development plans are approximately 301 hotel units (rooms, cottages, bungalows), 32 luxury homes, indoor and outdoor restaurants, deli, winery, wine cave, observation deck, event facilities such as ballrooms and conference rooms, shops, gyms, yoga studios, spas, swimming pools, ponds, accessory buildings, and other support structures.
Where the water will come from is another thing altogether, since unfortunately, money can build anything it wants, but it cannot make rain fall from the sky.
Compounding the community’s water supply deficiencies is a severe lack of effluent storage space for even current users. Due to the lack of storage capacity, the city has requested three emergency bypass approvals from the San Francisco Bay Regional Water Quality Control Board within the last three years to allow its tertiary-treated effluent to discharge into an already-impaired Napa River.
The discharge is particularly problematic because of pollutants, primarily geothermal in origin, including boron, antimony, arsenic, ammonia, cyanide, copper and mercury, which render the wastewater unsuitable for agricultural reuse and questionable for downstream water users, fish and wildlife.
To call the water situation Upvalley “challenging” is an understatement, especially when considering the development projected. If there isn’t enough water for residents now, where is it expected to come from for the additional load, especially in light of the State Water Resources Control Board’s latest considerations affecting state water allocations?
There are other issues besides water quality and quantity that can’t be ignored when discussing growth; traffic is an example. In Calistoga’s case, a lack of available workforce will require commuters as far away as Napa, American Canyon, and Santa Rosa, with every main intersection in town expected to fail. Despite this, the current City Council has strongly supported each resort project.
Given the drought conditions, if escape clauses have been included in any development agreements, it may be time to implement them. There are additional issues to consider as well, like air quality, emergency access, wildfire, evacuation, the integrity of a 46-year-old agriculture preserve and ag traditions, the quality of residents’ everyday lives, and most critically, the sustainability of the entire Napa Valley.
It’s time to ask direct questions of civic leaders and for those leaders to make difficult decisions, such as effecting a moratorium until numbers have been crunched and all the data necessary is on their desks in order to better plan.
It’s time for the tourism industry to show restraint. And it’s time for individuals to speak up, be counted, and take their valley back — since in the current drought of common sense, every drop counts.
Aranguren directs California Fisheries & Water Unlimited. Her opinion does not reflect that of the Measure A Financial Oversight Committee where she presides as vice-chair.