The best thing Napa city residents can do to combat California’s well-publicized, record-setting drought is to let their lawns stay brown this winter. That’s the message from the city’s water department.
Lush, green grass in your front yard is nothing to be proud of these days.
Winter irrigation is not normally an issue. Mother Nature almost always brings ample rains with her to the Napa Valley. Most sprinkler systems are put into hibernation well before the holidays arrive.
But with drought, people are tempted to put green back in their grass, even if it’s still winter, city of Napa Water General Manager Joy Eldredge said. Counterintuitively, local water usage often spikes in drought conditions.
If residents instead simply maintain their typical winter water consumption, the city of Napa will — at least in the short term — fare better than most in the current drought.
City water comes from two primary sources: Lake Hennessey and the State Water Project. Ample Lake Hennessey storage in the last few years has allowed water officials to bank about 11,000 acre-feet (one acre-foot is about 326,000 gallons) from previous State Water Project allocations. That allows the city to better weather the impact of the state project’s current meager offer of only 5 percent of full allotment. Meanwhile, Lake Hennessey is still 72 percent full, officials say.
Napa also made a very wise business decision many years ago by purchasing 1,000 acre-feet of the city of St. Helena’s State Water Project right. The city now sells 600 acre-feet of that water back to St. Helena annually and has the rest at its disposal.
The city’s supply is even significant enough to allow for sales to private interests, including hotels outside city limits as well as to some vineyards. This revenue is key to the city’s budget and enables residents’ water bills to remain as reasonable as possible.
Such sales will continue — and not impact supply — until a Stage 1 water emergency is declared, said Eldredge, who believes Napa is at least one full dry year removed from the threat of such a declaration. A Stage 1 alert calls for voluntary conservation measures.
Contracts with private interests, Eldredge said, allow sales to cease in the event of a Stage 1 emergency.
Napa hasn’t instituted mandatory water conservation requirements — the impact of a Stage 2 emergency — in more than 20 years, officials said.
Conversely, St. Helena issued its Stage 1 alert this month. Calistoga’s water supply is also much more precarious. And American Canyon’s reliance on the State Water Project is more significant than Napa’s as well.
How can Napa residents help their neighbors? Conservation in Napa doesn’t necessarily benefit Calistoga (or anywhere else in California). It isn’t as simple as saving here helps there. But even with ample local city supply, limiting water usage is the right thing to do. Less reliance on the State Water Project is also beneficial.
Increased conservation is actually the law. Legislation in 2009 called for a 20 percent reduction in urban per capita water consumption by 2020. Drought or not, the city of Napa has been working toward that goal. Current per capita usage in the city is around 140 gallons a day, officials said, a vast improvement from the 170-gallon average seen in the 1990s, but still some distance from the 2020 mandate.
The quickest way to achieve that goal in the city of Napa is to find alternatives to irrigated lawns. The city has made some headway through its Cash for Grass program, which rewards residents for replacing their grass with low- and zero-water landscaping options.
The current drought should give more residents with grass lawns a motive to look into it.