While California is asking cities and residents to voluntarily cut their water use during a historically severe drought, one Napa Valley town is being left with little choice.
Yountville is working to adjust to a 20% cutback in the amount of water it receives from state-owned Rector Reservoir, its only full-time source. Rector, which also supplies the nearby Veterans Home of California, is providing the town of about 2,800 people with a maximum of only 400 acre-feet of water for the year ending June 2022, compared with the usual 500 acre-feet.
A weekend of drenching storms in late October replenished Northern California water sources with several inches of rain, providing Yountville some relief but still leaving it far from restored.
“Eighteen-plus feet of Rector Reservoir still needs to get full,” Town Manager Steve Rogers recently told the Yountville Town Council of the wide gap still separating the town from a normal supply. “That’s a lot of rain.”
Yountville’s effort to cut back is playing out during one of the California’s severest droughts in recorded forecasting history. Seasonal rainfall for 2020-21 at Napa State Hospital totaled only about 10 inches after barely topping a foot in 2019-20 — compared to the 26-inch local average — and has risked the area’s driest three-year span since at least 1877, straining already taxed supplies for cities, vineyards, and countryside already threatened by wildfires.
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A state drought emergency declaration took effect in May for Napa and 40 other counties, spurring cities to announce water-use restrictions and voluntary cutback targets. But earlier, in March, a letter from the state Department of Veterans Affairs announced it would cut one-fifth of the Rector Reservoir allotments for both Yountville and the CalVet-run Veterans Home, barring an unusually wet fall and winter.
Can a single storm, even of the magnitude last weekend’s, end Napa County’s drought? Not quite.
Town customers have been reducing their water use in recent months but not quickly enough, so far, to stay abreast of the state’s 20% supply cut, public works director John Ferons told the Town Council earlier this month. Consumption in September was only 7% lower than in the same month in 2020, although the reduction increased to 13.8% during October.
As of Monday, Rector Reservoir had returned to 356.4 feet compared to its full height of 372.5 feet, according to CalVet spokesperson Lindsey Sin. The West Coast’s October storms brought the reservoir’s water supply to 3,358.11 acre-feet, 74.05% of capacity — an improvement but far from a cure, Ferons cautioned. (An acre-foot is the quantity of water covering one acre of land to a one-foot depth, and a typical California household consumes between one-half to one acre-foot annually for indoor and outdoor use, according to the nonprofit Water Education Foundation.)
“The storm we received is a dose of medicine that will temporarily alleviate our drought symptoms, but we need a sustained treatment to fully cure our drought illness, and that is multiple storms of soaking rains,” he told council members Nov. 2 of the weather patterns, which deposited more than 6.7 inches of rain at Napa County Airport in October and higher amounts elsewhere in the valley.
Napa County’s soon-to-be released drought contingency plan looks at dealing with droughts-to-come.
In response to the state cutback, Yountville is tracking down water losses from leaks, then sending notices to customers requiring repairs within a certain time. Town staff has found 64 leaks of at least a gallon per hour on the privately-owned side of residential water connections, and 32 similar-size leaks have been connected to 15 commercial customers, according to a town memorandum.
“It’s not what we want to do, but water is a valuable commodity that we have to save, and if we can’t get your attention with courtesy notices, hopefully, we can get some attention with the financial burden associated with it,” Ferons said.
Yountville customers also are encouraged to reduce irrigation use during the rainy season, including turning off systems for the season and switching off automatic watering timers during wet weather.
A key tool in the conservation effort is a smartphone app, EyeOnWater, the town is both using to monitor water use and encouraging residents to consult to find savings at home. The program can be linked to individual water accounts to measure a home or business’s consumption trends going back up to a year, as well as alerting users to hidden water losses.
“When there is a constant flow every hour, we know there is a leak,” Rogers said of EyeOnWater’s detection of unseen breaches.
More than a quarter of Yountville’s 840 water accounts had been enrolled with the water monitoring app by the first week of November, according to Rogers. Users can learn more about EyeOnWater and sign up for the service by visiting eyeonwater.com/signup
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You can reach Howard Yune at 530-763-2266 or email@example.com