Bakersfield has been derelict toward the public on the Kern River, group alleges

“Several public interest groups have issued a direct challenge to Bakersfield over the Kern River alleging the city has not lived up to its responsibilities to address the public trust.

Water Audit California, an advocacy group based in Napa, sent a letter to the Bakersfield Water Resources Department July 27 demanding the city conduct a study of how its diversions from the river are impacting the public trust and determine ways to avoid those impacts.

The letter stated if the city didn’t authorize the study before September 15, Water Audit would sue.” [Read More]

Hemphill Dam begins construction of fish passage

Hemphill Dam Ravine Bypass Installation (08/11/2022)

“The Hemphill Dam passage improvements will greatly improve Auburn Ravine for spawning and rearing by native fishes. It is a good example of improvements needed to benefit native fish populations at hundreds of locations across the state.”

Peter Moyle, a UC Distinguished Professor Emeritus and advisor to Water Audit

In 2019, Water Audit California sued the Nevada Irrigation District seeking a court order to “compel the respondent to remediate the Hemphill Dam’s impairment to fish passage, and to cease the unlawful kill of fish caused by the inadequate manner of diversion.” In 2020, Nevada Irrigation District voted to to adopt a fish passage improvement plan for Hemphill Dam in Auburn Ravine.

On May 11, 2022, the NID Board of Directors awarded the construction contract. On August 25, 2022, WAC has been able to verify that construction of the Hemphill Dam fish passage is underway (original url).

This project is the culmination of a 20-year process involving citizen advocates and
regulatory agencies, including Water Audit California, Friends of the Auburn Ravine, Save Auburn Ravine Salmon and Steelhead, NOAA Fisheries, and California Department of Fish and Wildlife.

Napa County sees renewed focus on fish barrier removals

“A push has begun to remove or remediate fish barriers in Napa County. The Napa County Resource Conservation District and Water Audit California have come up with a list of 51 barriers that, if removed, would open up more than 250 miles of spawning habitat.

The Resource Conservation District and Water Audit California recently brought academics and regulators on a tour of the sites. One goal is to find a way to obtain fish barrier removal permits from state and federal regulators in a cheaper, faster way.
“This is a test of the process,” said Rich Marovich of Water Audit California. “The agencies all want this work to be done, but I think sometimes they don’t see how they stand in their own way.”” [Read More]

Napa’s Lake Marie dam to release water for fish under 1915 law

“The Lake Marie reservoir, created in the late 19th century as part of a Napa State Hospital water mini-empire, might in the 21st century help locally rare steelhead trout.

Water Audit California has used lawsuits to try to gain more water from local reservoirs for downstream fish habitat. In this case, the California Department of State Hospitals recently agreed to a settlement.” [Read More]

Water Audit proposes “rock vanes” for Napa River

“Carefully-placed boulders in a Napa River stretch near St. Helena might mean more water for fish and other aquatic life during the dry summer months.

That’s the assessment of a Water Audit California report done by StreamWise. And, if getting water from rocks sound biblical, there’s no miracles being proposed here.

The report suggests placing “rock vanes” in the river. Rock vanes are lines of rocks each weighing a quarter-of-a-ton to a ton positioned to direct water flow toward the central portion of a river or stream channel.” [Read More]

Lake Marie Flows to Provide Improved Fish Habitat


A settlement agreement ending litigation between the California Department of State Hospitals and Water Audit California that was announced today will improve conditions for fish in Camille Creek while allowing Skyline Park visitors to continue to enjoy Lake Marie as a hiking destination. This resolution is representative of two principles: we can manage what we measure, and we can always do better.

Clear, cold water from the headwaters of Camille Creek flows into Lake Marie year-round. Below the Lake Marie dam, the creek passes through Skyline Park and residential neighborhoods. The mouth of the creek is at the Napa River near the Napa County Animal Shelter.

Lake Marie was built around 1880 and upgraded in 1908. The fourth jurisdictional dam built in the state, it is one of the oldest in California. Its history reflects Napa’s development from the earliest days of ranching. Lake Marie supplied water for Napa State Hospital for most of a century and supported hundreds of acres of farming and ranching activities until after World War II. Water is now supplied to the hospital from other sources, and in place of agriculture is the Skyline Park. With 1,020-acres of wildland crisscrossed by trails, the park is the nearest destination for hiking and mountain biking for many Napa residents.

California Fish and Game Code section 5937, adopted in 1915, requires dam owners to bypass enough flow to allow fishes living downstream to thrive. Like most dam owners, the Department of State Hospitals never operated their dam in accordance with the rule, and, for more than a century, no water has been bypassed for fish. This creates artificially dry conditions downstream and makes it harder for fishes to survive. An alternative to bypassing flows would have been removing the dam to allow water to flow freely, but as Lake Marie is a destination with abundant recreational benefits, removing the dam was not seen as a preferable option by either party.

A habitat assessment by R2 Consultants estimates that providing even small early summer flows will provide substantial benefits to Napa fishes. It was learned that young out-migrating anadromous fish, spawned upstream in the Napa River, use the waters below Lake Marie as their last opportunity to feed and mature before going to the ocean. More and cooler water to swim in and increased food availability in the early summer months will support additional fish growth, and therefore higher survival and return rates.

At this time, between 60 and 120 steelhead reared in Camille Creek are estimated to return from the sea to spawn annually. The projected ten-times survival rates means that Camille Creek could produce 600 to 1,200 adult steelhead in average and good water years.

This settlement is the next step in Water Audit’s Napa Valley remediation program that has so far included securing dam bypasses from Kimball, Rector, Bell Canyon dams, and the removal of obstructions to spawning in Garnet and York Creeks.

Water Audit California is a California public-benefit corporation
For additional information please email [email protected]

“Rewatering Napa’s Rivers”

The American Bar Association’s Natural Resources & Environment vol 36 no 1 contained “Rewatering Napa’s Rivers” by Karrigan Bork and Amber Manfree. The article describes the history of California’s legislative efforts to protect fisheries, the structural failures which led to non-enforcement, and the role of private entities like Water Audit in effecting the will of the legislature and protecting the rights of the people. Addressing members of the bar association, the authors draw from Water Audit’s experience to suggest “four key insights into creating successful litigation campaigns elsewhere.”

Water Audit has secured permission to host this article on its website and a copy is published below.

Past legislative efforts to protect fishes were well-informed, but these laws were seldom enforced and now read as a series of broken legislative promises. Time and again, private interests overwhelmed efforts to protect the public good. This is the structural failure that Professor Joseph Sax sought to address through the modern public trust doctrine. Yet there is hope.

Private litigation built on public trust standing is reinvigorating old laws. By suing to enforce these laws as the legislative expression of the public trust, private attorneys general can require the state to fulfill its promises of healthy fisheries in California. Private litigation by Water Audit California (Water Audit) has breathed new life into California Fish and Game (CF&G) Code § 5937, a statute requiring dam owners to release enough water to keep downstream fish in good condition, and improved environmental conditions in the Napa River watershed. Water Audit is just one player in a broader litigation ecosystem, but its story shows that sound science and focused litigation can reopen historic habitats and increase fish populations.

Bork, Karrigan, and Amber Manfree. “Rewatering Napa’s Rivers.” Natural Resources & Environment 36, no. 1 (2021): 1-5. (ABA, HeinOnline, SSRN)

WAC published videos of the Napa County Groundwater Sustainability Public Meetings

If you missed one or both of the Napa County Groundwater Sustainability Public Meetings on September 22nd and September 29, you can now watch them on the Water Audit California website.

Napa County Groundwater Sustainability Public Meeting #1 (Full-screen version)
Sep 22, 6:00 PM–7:30 PM
Napa County Groundwater Sustainability Public Meeting #2 (Full-screen version)
Sep 29, 6:00 PM–7:30 PM

These videos were recorded by WAC as a public service and are being released under a Creative Commons license so they an be entered into the public record.

Official documentation related to the meetings was published by the county on its Public Meetings on Groundwater in Napa County page. To the best of our knowledge, the County has no published a recording of the third meeting, which was held October 6 on Zoom.

Water Audit California victory for fishes at Hemphill Dam

[LINCOLN, CA, AUGUST 5, 2021]. Legal action by Water Audit California has prompted Nevada Irrigation District to adopt a fish passage improvement plan for Hemphill Dam in Auburn Ravine.

This habitat improvement project is timely. Low flows and high water temperatures have made 2021 a dismal year for salmon and steelhead in California. Hemphill Dam is blocking access to prime spawning habitat, and its removal will benefit migratory fishes, especially in hot, dry years like this one.

“The Hemphill Dam passage improvements will greatly improve Auburn Ravine for spawning and rearing by native fishes. It is a good example of improvements needed to benefit native fish populations at hundreds of locations across the state,” said Peter Moyle, a UC Distinguished Professor Emeritus and advisor to Water Audit.

Hemphill Dam is an eight-foot tall barrier that diverts water flowing through Auburn Ravine into a canal serving Turkey Creek Golf Club and the Sun City Lincoln Hills residential community. Further downstream the Ravine provides water to the rice farms west of California Highway 36.

On July 28, the NID’s Board of Directors approved removal of the existing structure and the construction of a nature-like rock ramp within the stream channel that will allow fish to swim upstream to spawn. A fish screen will be installed on the canal intake to prevent fish and lampreys from entering.

The upstream crest elevation of the ramp will be two feet lower than the existing dam crest. “The rock ramp structure would provide fish passage while also improving sediment continuity over the dam and likely improving bank stability upstream of the dam,” according to NID’s Environmental Impact Report.

A 2011 NID study reported that the area upstream of Hemphill Dam in Auburn Ravine is the best potential salmonid spawning habitat in all of Placer County. Restoring fish passage will benefit Threatened Central Valley steelhead and spring-run Chinook, as well as fall-run Chinook, a Species of Special Concern, without any impairment of the existing water deliveries.

“The Auburn Ravine is important for juvenile fall-run Chinook salmon that are emigrating from the upper reaches on their journey to the Pacific Ocean via the Sacramento River during winter and spring months. The Auburn Ravine also appears to provide rearing habitat for non-natal rearing of juvenile winter and spring-run Chinook salmon,” said California Department of Fish and Wildlife in a 2015 memorandum.

In December of 2019, Water Audit California commenced a legal action alleging that the NID’s facility created an unlawful stream obstruction. In January 2020 Water Audit and NID entered into a settlement agreement that provided a final EIR would be published by April 1, 2021, and that this adoption of a plan would follow. It is anticipated that construction will be part of NID’s 2022 budget.

NID’s recent action is the near-culmination of a 20-year process. Citizen advocates and regulatory agencies including NOAA Fisheries, California Department of Fish and Wildlife, Friends of the Auburn Ravine, and Save Auburn Ravine Salmon and Steelhead all contributed to this success.

The California Water Model: Resilience through Failure

“A review of 170 years of water-related successes in California suggests that most successes can be traced directly to past mistakes.  California’s highly variable climate has made it a crucible for innovations in water technology and policy.  Similar water imperatives have led to advances in water management in other parts of the world.  A close look at California’s water model suggests that “far-sighted incrementalism” is a path to progress.  Given the complexity of water management systems, better scientific information and new policy tools must be developed coherently and collaboratively over time.  A history of learning from previous failures can guide progress towards stable, secure, and resilient water systems worldwide.  This includes learning from other regions and other “water models” – the one option clearly superior to innovating in response to your own mistakes is learning from the errors of others.” [Read more]

Mount Veeder winery wins Napa County approval

The Planning Commission last week approved the 20,000-gallon-a-year winery. The planned 4,638-square-foot building at 2072 Mount Veeder Road will replace a house and barn that burned in the 2017 Nuns fire… Water Audit California, meanwhile, urged the county to deny the application. Grant Reynolds of the group wrote that Pickle Canyon Creek runs through the property and that the upper reaches of the creek are viable and critical steelhead fish habitat. This project should be subject to separate review to ensure it wouldn’t injure the “public trust” associated with Pickle Canyon Creek. Also, more study is needed to show whether the project would diminish flows in Redwood Creek located downstream, he wrote.” [Read more]

Re “Fire, Drought and Heat Scorch the Land of Reds and Whites”

Seen in the New York Times on July 22, 2021:

To the Editor:

Re “Fire, Drought and Heat Scorch the Land of Reds and Whites” (front page, July 19):

In Napa Valley, a stone’s throw from the vineyards of the dejected farmers interviewed in your article, other farmers are adapting for life in a warmer climate. The Tofanelli family continues to dry farm well-placed vineyards as they have for almost a century. Others, like family-owned Spottswoode, actively research climate change adaptation and rapidly adopt water-saving methods.

The distressed vineyards were planted in areas known to have high fire risk and/or inadequate water supplies. We’ve known about climate change for decades but failed to develop policies to deal with it, at all levels of government.

The current scale of wine production, driven in part by global business interests, is impossible to support as the megadrought continues. It is time to accept this new reality, to get our land use and water policies in order, and to focus on learning from people who are pouring their time, money and energy into finding new and more sustainable ways to live with our changing environment.

Amber Manfree
Napa, Calif.
The writer is a consultant for Water Audit California and other community organizations.

[Source: New York Times, July 22, 2021 ]

Scorched, Parched, and Now Uninsurable: Climate Change Hits Wine Country

“In Napa Valley, the lush heartland of America’s high-end wine industry, climate change is spelling calamity. Not outwardly: On the main road running through the small town of St. Helena, tourists still stream into wineries with exquisitely appointed tasting rooms. …But drive off the main road, and the vineyards that made this valley famous — where the mix of soil, temperature patterns and rainfall used to be just right — are now surrounded by burned-out landscapes, dwindling water supplies and increasingly nervous winemakers, bracing for things to get worse.” [Read more]

Indigenous people gather in St. Helena to honor Napa River

“Descendants of the Pomo, Mishewal Wappo and other native peoples gathered at Wappo Park on Sunday to pay tribute to the Napa River through speech, song and prayer.

“Life is water and water is life,” said Sal Garcia-Pinola, a member of the Pomo.

Sunday’s gathering took place amid a severe drought that has resulted in water rationing for St. Helena customers and a Napa River that resembles a series of puddles more than an actual river.” [Read more]

So much for the Public Trust

“If there is going to be another lawsuit, I suspect it will involve commercial development vs. public trust if or when development of any kind in St. Helena can even be considered given our critical water crisis. I truly hope I am wrong about that, particularly considering the significant amount of general fund money and countless staff hours the city has already wasted over the years fighting and losing lawsuits.

I cannot imagine anybody not knowing this nevertheless “public” means all of us without partiality to commercial enterprise. Maybe our city council will voluntarily embrace the importance of public trust, which is crucial to a healthy society, and we will not need any more lawsuits.” [Read more]

Water issues require decisive action

“As a director of Water Audit California, I was bemused to read the response of the city of St. Helena’s attorney to our litigation (“Water Audit California sues St. Helena over water management” June 19). It is ironic that the attorney alleges that we were fishing for information for future litigation, when in fact the city provoked this lawsuit by refusing to provide the information it promised in our February 2021 Joint Statement.” [Read more]

Water Audit California sues St. Helena over water management

“Water Audit California sued the City of St. Helena this week over its management of water. The watchdog group says the city is violating its “public trust” responsibilities relating to the Napa River and its aquatic habitat. It cites the city’s policies on groundwater pumping, well permitting, and water consumption by vineyards and wineries.

Months of negotiations between Water Audit and the city resulted in a joint statement issued in February in which the city agreed to collect water level and extraction data from wells, provide a summary of the data to the public, conduct a comprehensive review of the water system, develop new protocols for use of the Stonebridge wells, work with Water Audit on installing stream gauges at local waterways, and consider “impacts to public trust resources” in evaluating well permits and water connections.

Water Audit’s lawsuit claims the city failed to provide water data referenced in the joint statement, resulting in the new litigation.” [Read more]

Water Audit Sues St. Helena Over Alleged Failure to Uphold Public Trust



[NAPA, CA, JUNE 17, 2021]. Water Audit California is again suing the City of St. Helena over their management of water resources. This comes on the heels of a similar suit filed June 1 against Napa County. Both cases aim to increase monitoring and oversight of groundwater and surface water resources.

“There doesn’t appear to be enough information available about water availability for anyone to make informed decisions, or for the public to understand what is going on,” Grant Reynolds, a director of Water Audit said. The suit cites poor documentation of major water uses, including pumping at the City of St. Helena’s Pope Street wells complex, and water deliveries to vineyards, wineries, and Meadowood resort.

Water Audit’s complaint does not ask for changes to existing water uses. Instead, it seeks an injunction to stop the City from issuing new groundwater well drilling permits until enough information is available to make informed water allocation decisions. The complaint identifies the authority of NOAA Fisheries, the State Water Resources Control Board, and the California Departments of Water Resources and Fish and Wildlife, and requests their participation in decision-making.

 “When water managers are asking people to cut back their personal water use, residents deserve honest accounting of the community’s water assets. At the very least, planners should not approve new commercial well permits if existing use is drying our waterways and pushing endangered species closer to extinction,” Reynolds said.

June through mid-October is the driest time of year in Napa Valley. It’s when water demand is highest from agriculture, wine production, and landscaping, and when flows are lowest in creeks. Water use by agriculture and landscaping increases in droughts.

Pope Street Wells

USGS records show that drying of the Napa River adjacent to the Pope Street wells complex has increased in frequency and duration while the City has increased pumping of groundwater for municipal use. In dry years, 30% of St. Helena’s supply comes from these wells, according to LAFCO’s 2020 Municipal Service Review. A 2014 Luhdorff and Scalmanini Consulting Engineers report stated that public water supply wells were dewatering the Napa River in this location and, in 2016, recommended that Napa County install additional monitoring of groundwater-surface water interactions where data are lacking.

”You may refuse to measure what you do not wish to manage, but you cannot evade trustee duties simply because it is inconvenient,” Reynolds said.


Water demands of the 1,080 acres of vineyard within St. Helena city limits have the potential to deplete surface water resources. The suit seeks to determine which operations may be doing so, and to ensure that their practices are not in conflict with public trust responsibilities, which include maintaining flows in waterways.

“There is a balancing act between private interests and public interests. It is unacceptable to impoverish the public trust for private gain,” Reynolds said.  


The suit gives examples of murky water agreements between City of St. Helena and wineries, including Spring Mountain Winery, Sutter Home, Beringer/Treasury, and Trinchero Family Estates. What little is publicly known about sales of municipal water to large industrial users suggests that companies pay less than residents for water from the same sources, and that they consume over 20% of the City’s annual drinking water supply.

“Wineries may have a greater impact on creeks than vineyards do, because of the timing and intensity of water use,” Reynolds said. Wine production requires about six gallons of potable water per gallon of finished wine, and peak water demand comes during late August through October, when crush pads, tanks, and hoses require cleaning. Wineries source water from municipal supplies and from their own groundwater wells.

The highest concentration of wineries in Napa Valley is around St. Helena. At least twenty-eight wineries are located inside St. Helena’s boundary, and Napa County has permitted over 13 million gallons of total wine production for over 90 wineries within a half-mile of city limits. City of St. Helena does not publicly report permitted production for wineries it oversees, however Napa County’s winery database suggests that over 10 million gallons are permitted within city limits. Actual production is contingent on crop yields and imported grapes.


Meadowood resort appears to be receiving water subsidized by St. Helena rate-payers, and current operations may be out of compliance with Measures J and P.  In 1990, Meadowood and the City of St. Helena entered into a contract for the delivery of 20 million gallons of water annually. Initially, Meadowood paid the same rate as St. Helena residents for water, plus a surcharge covering the cost of pumping water uphill to the facility. In 2016, the contract was amended and the surcharge was eliminated. Since that time, ratepayers in the service area have subsidized pumping costs. It appears that the change was never announced, and the revised contract has not been publicly posted.

“St. Helena residents subsidize water delivery to Meadowood, and then the resort’s transient occupancy tax is paid to Napa County. It’s not a great deal for St. Helena residential rate-payers,” Reynolds said.

Carpenter agreement

Poor water-resources oversight is also evident in a 1962 agreement between the City of St. Helena and Dr. Lewis Carpenter. When Bell Canyon Reservoir was built, it impounded the location of Dr. Carpenter’s preexisting water right, so the City agreed to allocate up to 400 acre-feet per year of water in the reservoir to him. The agreement states explicitly that the right belongs to Dr. Carpenter only, and is non-transferrable without prior written agreement. No documentation for a transfer of the right has been located by Water Audit, and Dr. Carpenter passed away in April 2013. Although his death should have ended the contract, the City of St. Helena has delivered water under his agreement as recently as 2021. The volume of the delivery is not well-documented. It may be 30.6 acre-feet, or up to 400 acre-feet.

 “The amount of water is secondary; the first priority is a credible accounting system so that making informed water management decisions is possible,” Reynolds said.

Public Trust

According to California law, cities and counties are required to manage environmental resources in the same way that a trustee of an estate has fiduciary duties over financial assets. Maintaining records, disclosing facts, and acting solely in the interests of beneficiaries are essential requirements. Water resources and the plants and animals they support are all part of the public trust.

“Water Audit’s actions are all in pursuit of a single goal: protecting the public trust of resources which sustain all of us,” Reynolds said.


The full complaint is available on the Water Audit California website.

A view of the Napa River, looking downstream, adjacent to Pope St. well complex in St. Helena on June 6, 2021.

Watering has stopped at the Robert Louis Stevenson Middle School soccer field in June, 2021. 

[Court Record] Water Audit files suit against City of St. Helena

Water Audit California is again suing the City of St. Helena over their management of water resources. This comes on the heels of a similar suit filed June 1 against Napa County. Both cases aim to increase monitoring and oversight of groundwater and surface water resources. The full complaint below.

[Court Record] Water Audit files suit against Napa County

A week ago, we filed a lawsuit against the County of Napa for Negligent Breach of Trustee Duties and related issues. (See Napa County sued over care of Napa River in the Napa Valley Register.)

We’ve decided to publish the full text so you can read our reasons for yourselves. Here are some photos which more accurately illustrate the dewatered state of the Napa River.

“The public trust arises from the fundamental relationship between a government and its citizens, and from the basic expectation that renewable natural resources should remain abundant, justly distributed, and available to future generations.

…The County has failed to acquire and/or report to the public the information necessary to keep the beneficiaries reasonably informed of the status of the public trust.”

City of Napa: County’s EIR draft “especially disconcerting in a time of extreme drought”

Summary: The City of Napa has panned the County of Napa’s Draft Environmental Impact Report for the KJS Investment & Sorrento, Inc. Vineyard Conversion, concluding that “The absence of any real water supply impacts analysis renders the DEIR deficient.

There is simply no meaningful analysis of water supply to inform the public of potential impacts from the Proposed Project. This is especially disconcerting in a time of extreme drought, and when the Proposed Project will be diverting surface water upstream and away from Lake Hennessey, the major local water source for the City of Napa’s public drinking water system.

Napa County sued over care of Napa River

“Water Audit California is suing to make Napa County increase oversight of groundwater pumping for vineyards, wineries, and other uses, claiming that the pumping affects the Napa River.

The lawsuit said the county has a “public trust” duty to care for the river. The idea is that too much groundwater pumping from wells can keep groundwater from seeping into the river during dry months, to the detriment of fish and other aquatic life.” [Read more]

City of St. Helena reaches agreement with water watchdog group

“The City of St. Helena has agreed to monitor local groundwater levels and stream flows, averting a potential lawsuit from an environmental advocacy group.

Following months of negotiations, the city and Water Audit California released a joint statement Friday announcing the city will collect monthly water levels and annual extraction totals for local wells and provide a public, “scientifically useful” summary of the data.” [Read more]

Joint Statement Regarding the Protection of Public Trust Resources

Water Audit California is pleased to announce that we have reached a settlement of our controversy with the City of St. Helena. It represents a substantial evolution for the City that we both hope will result in a sustainable water future. Water Audit commends the City for its decision to adopt the principles of science and thereby lead the way for other Napa communities to fully understand the essential relationship of water to our lives. year ago at our Water Forum we advocated that there is a better way than conflict, and this Joint Statement is proof positive of our belief.

By a 3-2 vote, Napa County agrees Bremer Winery barn can stay

“Bremer Family Winery found a bright spot in its long tussle with the county over what’s legal on the Deer Park property — it can keep a masonry barn and a bathroom built within a stream setback.

In an appeals hearing on Dec. 8, the county Board of Supervisors agreed to overturn a Planning Commission decision and issue conservation regulation exceptions for the two structures. It will take a final vote on Feb. 2.” [Read more]

Water environmental group threatens Calistoga with lawsuit, again

“CALISTOGA — Stemming from litigation dating back to 2008, the City of Calistoga is confronted again with a long-standing threat from an environmental group over the operation of Kimball Dam.

Grant Reynolds, a director of Water Audit California, delivered a letter to the City of Calistoga on Monday criticizing the city for not fulfilling its commitment to complete a “stream study … and other aspects of its commitments.”” [Read more]

Environmental group threatens to sue St. Helena over groundwater extraction

“ST. HELENA — An environmental advocacy group is threatening to sue the City of St. Helena over its handling of groundwater.

Grant Reynolds, a director of Water Audit California, delivered a letter to the city on Monday criticizing its use of the Stonebridge wells for municipal use and “a pattern of exercising no discretion” in issuing permits for new wells.” [Read more]

York Creek dam removed!

Photo: California Water Blog/Amber Manfree

Water Audit California is pleased to announce that our inspectors have observed water flowing at the site of the recently-removed York Creek dam in Napa. Local authorities had stalled on the court-ordered removal of this dam for a decade until WAC began enforcement action in 2017. Removal activities began earlier this summer and WAC can confirm that the passage is now clear in time for winter rains.

The recent removal of the sediment-filled York Dam in Napa County has reconnected two miles of steelhead trout habitat that has been blocked for over a century. While the dam itself was small and non-functional, it took nearly 30 years to accomplish removal. Thousands of barriers to stream flow and fish passage similar in size and impact to York Dam are scattered throughout California, contributing to population declines in native fishes and other freshwater species.

* * *

Given that most dams in California were built in the last century, many are no longer functional or provide limited benefits to people. Non-functioning dams should be removed in a safe, planned manner, before they fail on their own.

California WaterBlog: Small Dam, Big Deal: York Dam Removed in Napa Valley.

In the media

Small Dam, Big Deal: York Dam Removed in Napa Valley

The recent removal of the sediment-filled York Dam in Napa County has reconnected two miles of steelhead trout habitat that has been blocked for over a century. While the dam itself was small and non-functional, it took nearly 30 years to accomplish removal. Thousands of barriers to stream flow and fish passage similar in size and impact to York Dam are scattered throughout California, contributing to population declines in native fishes and other freshwater species. [Read more]

WAC’s letter to Napa LAFCO requesting time to present Re wildfire control

“As a response to the recent devastating events in Napa County, Water Audit California
has expanded our remit to include fire as an essential component of the environment. We have
secured the advice of a leading scholar on the subject and are in the process of assembling
another outstanding advisory subcommittee.”

York Creek Dam Removal Sets Stage For Environmental Restoration In Napa

In a quiet corner of Napa County, tucked away in the hills above its famous valley, a bucolic trickle of a creek is now flowing free after languishing behind a dam for more than a century. The waters of York Creek began their unabated journey to the Napa River on Sept. 14 for the first time since the latter part of the 1800s, when they were corralled in order to irrigate thirsty vineyards and provide drinking water to the little town of St. Helena about 1.5 miles downstream. Now, after 27 years of starts and stops, a lawsuit brought by state regulators, a court order, a long-running federal fine and the threat of further legal action from environmentalists, the old earthen dam is finally being removed in order to restore a portion of the creek to a more natural state.[Read More]

Napa County gives split decision in Bremer winery stream case

“Another Bremer Family Winery brouhaha, this one over a barn and other structures built too close to a stream, landed in the laps of Napa County planning commissioners with the subtlety of a live grenade.

The Planning Commission on Wednesday decided by separate votes that two structures can stay and two must go. John and Laura Bremer can appeal the decision to the Board of Supervisors, so that might not be the final word.” [Read More]

St. Helena City Council awards $3.2 million contract for York Creek dam removal

The St. Helena City Council awarded a $3.2 million contact this week to an Arcata firm to remove the Upper York Creek Dam. McCullough Construction will be charged with notching the dam, restoring the creek’s aquatic habitat, and removing an illegal barrier to fish passage that the city first agreed to remove in 2006. Work is scheduled to begin next week and finish by the end of October.[Read More]

[Napa Vision 2050] Water Audit California: Bremer Family Winery

“On June 23, 2020, Water Audit California sent the following extraordinary letter to the Napa County Planning Commission, staff, county counsel, and the State Department of Fish and Wildlife. The authors raise a number of issues regarding the processing of the Bremer matter that should be of concern to all of us. We feel compelled to share it with you.” [Read more]

WAC’s letter to Napa Planning re Bremer Winery’s application for exception to conservation regulations

“Water Audit has two concerns herein: (1) the preservation of the Napa County stream
setback provision, and (2) the application of proper policies and practices considering environmental
matters. Water Audit believes that riparian ways should be seen as sacred ground, an essential
foundation of the community’s environmental health.”

Introducing: The Refugia Project

The Refugia Project arose from the Forum’s first principle: In Data We Trust.  An early-stage work-in-progress, The Refugia Project is organizing, making accessible and actionable the enormous amount of open source data already available about the Napa Valley ecosystems. Take a first look and then revisit the website once in a while to see how the research evolves.  Comments and suggestions are encouraged.

2020 Napa Water Forum update

Three months ago, a coalition of public interest organizations hosted the 2020 Napa Water Forum, with generous support from leading Napa wineries. The Forum introduced an innovative environmental management strategy. Recognizing the complexity of water allocation in our state, Active Management gives voice to all beneficial users while at the same time recognizing the existential urgency of coming into balance with nature.  A panel of distinguished experts spoke on the history of Napa’s relationship with its watercourse, its unique opportunities in the future, the principles of environmental reconciliation, and the highly topical subject of groundwater management and its relationship to surface flows.  Two experts on community engagement informed attendees how to arrive at consensus decisions in a Master Class that should perhaps be revisited by the newly formed Groundwater Sustainability Agency.

Water Audit California has now posted a complete record of the proceeding for those who were unable to attend, (or attendees who want a refresher course) including a HD video, a video linked transcript, portraits of attendees, and a downloadable library of supporting documents.

Thanks to our speakers, co-sponsors, and wonderful audience, the water forum at Native Sons Hall was a great success. We appreciate the role you’re playing in changing how Napa approaches water issues.

The Napa Valley Register’s Barry Eberling wrote an article about the event which we feel captured the tone and content of the event. Give the piece a read here: Watershed forum looks to defuse Napa County water issues

Watershed forum looks to defuse Napa County water issues

“Various environmentalists are saying that the old adage about “water being for fighting over” doesn’t have to apply to Napa County. The group called Water Audit California has used lawsuits to pry water releases from local reservoirs for fish and has threatened a groundwater-related lawsuit against Napa County. The group last week co-sponsored a forum to suggest another way.” [Read more]

2020 Water Forum Panelists

Dr. Peter Moyle

Distinguished Professor Emeritus in the Department of Wildlife, Fish and Conservation Biology and associate director of the Center for Watershed Sciences, UC Davis.

Dr. Moyle is author or co-author of more than 250 publications, including Inland Fishes of California (2002) and “Suisun Marsh: ecological history and possible futures” co-authored with Amber Manfree and Peggy Fielder (2014 UC Press). His most recent book is “Floodplains: processes and management for ecosystem services“, with Jeff Opperman as the lead author and Amber Manfree, Joan Florsheim, and Eric Larsen as coauthors (2017, UC Press).

He has served on numerous advisory bodies, including the Ecosystem Restoration Program Science Board of the California Bay-Delta Authority and the National Research Council Panel on the Klamath River. His research interests include conservation of aquatic species, habitats, and ecosystems; ecology of fishes of the San Francisco Estuary; ecology of California stream fishes; impact of introduced aquatic organisms (novel ecosystems); use of floodplains by fish; and reconciliation ecology.

Dr. Ted Grantham

Cooperative Extension Specialist and Adjunct Assistant Professor in the Department of Environmental Science, Policy, and Management at UC Berkeley. CalTrout Ecosystem Fellow with the Water Policy Center of the Public Policy Institute of California.

Dr. Grantham is an eco-hydrologist interested in the impacts of human activities on river ecosystem health. His extension activities are focused on the translation of research into sustainable, cost-effective solutions for managing water and the environment. Lead author of Systematic Screening of Dams for Environmental Flow Assessment and Implementation, with co-authors Dr. Moyle and Joshua Viers, and the California WaterBlog article “California water rights: You can’t manage what you don’t measure.” He has a B.S. in Biological Sciences from Stanford University and a Ph.D. from UC Berkeley’s Department of Science, Policy and Management.

Teri Jo Barber

Registered Hydrologist, American Institute of Hydrology

Ms. Barber uses her expertise in hydrology and storm water management in her design and restoration work in northern California wildland rivers, streams, and wetlands. Her bioengineering projects on erosion and sediment control challenges utilize natural materials that enhance ecological productivity while repairing streambank failures, stabilizing landslides, and reversing hillslope gullies. She has experience evaluating municipal sourcewater quality, in permitting construction projects, and in construction management. Teri Jo has more than 24 years of experience implementing bioengineering projects in streams of Northern California using rocks, large wood, small wood, brush, straw, and native plants. Using images of field conditions with personal experience, she will discuss the challenges facing Napa County in relation to dynamic surface water/groundwater interface. She has an M.S. Watershed Management and a B.Sc. in Water Quality from Humboldt State University, certification as a professional surface water hydrologist through American Institute of Hydrology, and a stormwater designer certification through the Northcoast Regional Water Quality Control Board.

Dr. Douglas (Gus) Tully

Lead developer of the Scott Valley Integrated Hydrologic Model

Dr. Tully’s doctoral research focused on groundwater-surface-water interactions in agricultural groundwater basins with groundwater dependent ecosystems. He has experience with development, sensitivity analysis, calibration, and uncertainty analysis of integrated hydrologic models. He was one of the lead developers of the Scott Valley Integrated Hydrologic Model (SVIHM), which is currently being used to formulate the groundwater sustainability plan for the basin. He has a B.S. in geology from UC Santa Barbara, a M.S. in hydrology from New Mexico Institute of Mining and Technology, and a Ph.D. in hydrology from UC Davis.

Rich Pauloo

Department of Land, Air and Water Resources, UC Davis

Mr. Pauloo is a PhD Candidate in physical hydrogeology at UC Davis researching emerging regional-scale threats to aquifers, such as nonpoint source contamination and domestic well failure. He will discuss the use of tools from geostatistics, 3D groundwater flow and contaminant transport, statistical/machine learning, optimization, calibration, and mathematical modeling to explain and forecast the behavior of hydrologic systems. He was recently awarded a top prize in the 2019 California Water Data Challenge by the state of California for his work on making water quality data accessible.

He will explain how drought and unsustainable groundwater management have negatively impacted communities in California’s Central Valley, and what Napa can learn from these case studies when planning for basin-scale integrated surface and groundwater management. The role of data acquisition and analysis using remote sensor networks, data science, data visualization/communication, and open source software will also be discussed.

Rich Marovich

Putah Creek Streamkeeper

Mr. Marovich has been the Putah Creek Streamkeeper since 2000, leading complex and cooperative projects to protect the resources of Lower Putah Creek. He has won over $12 million in competitive grants for physical and biological studies, community planning and habitat enhancement projects including: abating and deterring trespass and illegal dumping; controlling invasive weeds; stabilizing eroding banks; restoring natural channel form and function; and establishing native vegetation. He also manages a native plant nursery staffed with community volunteers. His prior experience includes 25 years with the California Department of Pesticide Regulation leading a statewide program to protect listed species from pesticide exposure.

Dennis Bowker

Environmental Facilitator

Mr. Bowker was the winner (1994) of the Environmental Law Institute National Wetlands Award for his work at the Napa Resource Conservation District. The principal author of the Napa Hillside Vineyard Development Manual and the Napa River Watershed Integrated Resource Management Plan, his watershed projects have included such major wineries as the Robert Mondavi Winery, Buena Vista Vineyards, Comaine Chandon, the Sterling Winery, and the Carnerios Quality Alliance. As a consultant and facilitator through the federal government’s US Institute for Environmental Conflict Resolution, he provided leadership to collaborative efforts to manage and resolve public and private environmental conflicts nationwide, and in Asia, South America and Europe.

Announcing the 2020 Napa Water Forum

“We cannot solve our problems with the same level of thinking that created them.”
~ Albert Einstein

Growers and Vintners for Responsible Agriculture, Napa Vision 2050 and Water Audit California present


Friday, February 7, 2020 at NOON

Concerned residents of Napa County seek to protect the natural environment from further degradation. Multi-layered federal, state and local agencies seek to apply a complex web of statutes, ordinances, regulations, principles and practices to constrain harm to the public trust, while an entire industry of “entitlement” advocates seek to extract individual benefit from the public commons. The entire process is mired in a stalemate of expensive controversy.

Napa County has the opportunity to lead the way with environmental reconciliation. We submit for your consideration a new vision of the future proposed by the prestigious Public Policy Institute that is founded on good science, best practices, and adaptive management.

We are hosting a forum with a distinguished panel of experts who are non-political, unbiased purveyors of the facts. The experts will discuss the evolution of a new conflict-free approach to examining the relationship between development and the environment, the field conditions in the Napa watershed, and the most recent technology in measuring and modeling. We will present the testimonial of a successful streamkeeper, and a how-to-do-it discussion led by a world class environmental facilitator.

All interested persons are welcome. Seating is limited. Gates will open at noon. The presentations begin at 1:00 and will be followed by a hosted reception to allow for informal discussions and networking. Directions to the private venue at the Napa Airport will be emailed to you after your registration.

Growers/Vintners for Responsible Agriculture
Napa Vision 2050

Update: Feb 4, 2020

Due to the large number of participants, we have overwhelmed the on-site parking at the venue and will be using the Napa County Airport general parking lot for our event. Starting at noon a shuttle bus will take you to the venue a short distance away. Look for the white canopy indicating the pick up point. The shuttle bus will have Water Audit’s logo on the door.  Please allow an extra few minutes for this process. 
There is limited handicap parking at the venue.  After entering the airport turn left on Airport Road and continue to Gate 4, where security will direct you to our hangar. 

Update: Feb 6, 2020

Registrations for our Napa Water Forum were much greater than the airport venue could properly accommodate.  We have been able to relocate at the same time and date into the historic (1915) Native Sons building, which is located in downtown Napa, directly across the street from the municipal parking garage. The building is handicap accessible.

Please re-calibrate your navigation devices to 937 Coombs Street, on the corner of First Street, in Napa, California, 94559.  Doors will still open at noon February 7, 2020, and the presentations will begin at 1 p.m., but no shuttle is required.

WAC warns Napa County of litigation over winery permitting deregulation

“Water Audit cannot, however, remain silent about the proposed Ordinance, as that legislation that appears to pose a direct threat to interests of the public trust. Recent events and research have elevated our concerns to outright alarm. …We see no discussion in the Board of Supervisor’s record of the impact that these identified new demands will have on the public trust. To the contrary, in its comment on the Ordinance the Center for Biological Diversity set forth an estimation of the water demands of the potential additional winery authorized capacity – a volume that far exceeds the bypass volume that Water Audit has worked so hard to obtain.”

Napa County’s winery streamlining plan faces legal threat

“Napa County intends to cut red tape for what it deems to be modest winery expansion requests, even though a group called Water Audit California warned of possible legal action.

County officials said the goal is simply to move consideration of more routine decisions from the Planning Commission to county staff, such as adding a few employees or a certain amount of wine production. Environmental rules and public noticing will still apply.

But Water Audit California is expressing concern that streamlining could hurt streams and fish.” [Read more]


Water Audit California has filed suit against the Nevada Irrigation District’s Hemphill Diversion Facility (Hemphill Dam) alleging it “is an unlawful stream obstruction and an unlawful manner of diversion”. The suit seeks a court order to “compel the respondent to remediate the Hemphill Dam’s impairment to fish passage, and to cease the unlawful kill of fish caused by the inadequate manner of diversion.”

As Yountville reservoir falls, state studies supply – and possible water purchases from Napa

“YOUNTVILLE — Even with California’s lengthy drought in the rear-view mirror, the reservoir feeding Yountville and the Veterans Home of California is running low. Just how low may determine what the town – and state regulators – do to curb water use and boost supplies as the dryness of summer approaches.

New monitoring equipment at Rector Reservoir northeast of Yountville suggests water levels are falling at such a rate that the state Department of Veterans Affairs, which owns both the reservoir and the Veterans Home, should plan for a possible shortfall in the middle of August as a precaution, according to CalVet Secretary Vito Imbasciani.” [Read more]

After environmental lawsuit, St. Helena agrees to bypass more water into creek

“ST. HELENA — The City Council has approved a short-term plan to bypass more water from Bell Canyon Reservoir into Bell Creek, in response to a lawsuit claiming that the city has degraded fish habitat in the creek by historically capturing too much water in the reservoir.

The council also approved contracts to install equipment measuring how much water the city diverts from Bell Creek, and to conduct studies that will lay the groundwork for a permanent bypass plan within the next 12 to 18 months.” [Read more]

St. Helena threatened with lawsuit over stalled dam removal

ST. HELENA — An environmental advocacy group that sued the city last year over water diversion at Bell Canyon Reservoir is now threatening a separate lawsuit over the long delay in the removal of the Upper York Creek Dam. Grant Reynolds of Water Audit California, a public benefit corporation, wrote a letter to the city on Feb. 11 requesting various city records involving the dam, and followed up two days later with a letter threatening to sue “to compel the city to action.” The dam has been declared a barrier to fish passage, and its removal has been on the city’s to-do list since at least 1993 when, in response to a state lawsuit, the city agreed to a court order pledging to remove the dam by Nov. 1, 1993. The order was lifted in 2001 to help the city apply for grant funding, and in 2010 the city entered into a settlement agreement with National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration Fisheries pledging to remove the dam by 2012.[Read More]

Lawsuit demands monitoring, fish protection at Yountville-area reservoir

“The reservoir serving Yountville and the neighboring Veterans Home of California has become the latest Napa County water source to be targeted in court for allegedly siphoning excessive water and damaging fish habitats.

A lawsuit filed by Water Audit California demands a curtailing of water diversions to Rector Reservoir, which is owned by the state Department of Veterans Affairs and provides water to both the military retirement home west of Yountville and to the town itself.” [Read more]

City of St. Helena sued over water diversion

“An environmental advocate who filed a claim against the city of St. Helena in May has now sued the city for allegedly failing to bypass enough water into Bell Creek.

According to a lawsuit filed Aug. 10 in Napa Superior Court by Water Audit California, the city has violated state regulatory limits on the diversion of water into Bell Canyon Reservoir, one of the city’s primary water sources, and failed to install state-mandated equipment to monitor water flows at Bell Canyon dam.” [Read more]