News About the North Bay Water Reuse Authority

Is recycled wastewater the answer in Coombsville?

By Susan Todd, Napa Valley Register, 10/2/12

If the residents of the water-starved Coombsville MST basin were asked in 2009 if they prefer a pipeline that would deliver non-drinkable, recycled, treated sewer water at a price tag of $50 million, or drinkable city water at $34 million, which would they have chosen?

Many were shocked at the Feb. 23, 2012, Skyline Park meeting, when Keith Caldwell, District 5 supervisor, spoke of the cost of piping city water to Coombsville. People were shocked because, in the 12 years since the first meeting, no one had given the cost of pumping city water.

The recycled waste water pipeline has already been installed up to Skyline Park, even before a straw poll was taken to find out if there was a demand.

Gulp, a self-described neutral organization seeking solutions for Coombsville’s water problems, has stated (almost exclusively in print from the early 2000s) that there are “too many physical and institutional barriers” to bring drinkable, potable city water to the Coombsville MST basin. Gulp states that the only reasonable solution is the recycled, treated sewer water.

Public works has stated, in newspaper articles and mailing from 2008 and 2009, that city water was a viable option and needed further exploration.

When the residents of Coombsville met with those pushing for the recycled water (Napa Sanitation District, Napa Valley Country Club, and Gulp) at Silverado Middle School, there was a huge negative response to the pipeline.

The residents were mainly against the $1000-per-acre property tax assessment (whether the water was used or not). So Gulp, Napa Sanitation District and Napa Valley Country Club shelved the initial $50 million project, and downsized it to $18 million (then $11 million to $13 million).

The kinder, gentler version would have mainly served Napa Valley Country Club, and maybe some large vineyards.

Now, in 2012, Napa Valley Country Club and a few vineyards (which had at first expressed interest) are on the fence or are backing out. Although nothing has appeared in print, it is probable that residents of Coombsville will be assessed to bear the cost.

A recent mailing from Napa Sanitation District shows the plans have gone back to the $50 million version. Although the pipeline goes directly to the Napa Valley Country Club and spans its entire acreage, the cost from the $13 million version would be too great for them.

Recycled water is touted as:

• stopping or slowing the declining ground water;

• a good reliable source of water for landscape gardens, golf courses, and vineyards;

• and the only option worth considering.

The use of the reclaimed waste water is touted as “possibly” slowing the water decline of the underground aquifer, so all residents should be assessed and must pay — even if they do not receive the water.

This raises many questions about the recycled waste water.

Silverado Country Club (the other country club drawing from the MST aquifer) has refused the recycled water. The parcels in the northern half of the MST basin will neither receive the treated wastewater nor have been asked to use conservation measures.

It is, therefore, questionable how much the project will slow the decline of the aquifer. Silverado is now having to drill new, deeper wells — having drilled one last year.

Silverado is the biggest user of ground water. It waters the greens of two professional 18-hole golf courses, and fills numerous lakes and ponds with MST groundwater.

Even if those in the northern half of the MST basin wanted to use recycled water, they could not as the pipeline will only reach up to Hagen Road.

There is nothing in place to stop development of new vineyards and wineries, which may choose not to use the recycled waste water. They may choose to draw on the aquifer instead.

There are questions about how using treated waste water for irrigation will affect the aquifer, with treated wastewater being shunted deep underground from aging, non-cased wells.

An argument refuting the possible contamination of the aquifer by ground wells points to septic tanks as evidence that the aquifer will not be affected.

Addressing this concern, septic tanks and leech fields are mandated to be 100 feet from wells. There is no such mandate for the recycled sewer water.

Napa Sanitation says treated wastewater is not fit for livestock or pets to drink, so what about wildlife? Any vegetables watered with this recycled waste water must be boiled or peeled before consumption.

Quoting Supervisor Bill Dodd and public works, “Recycled water cannot be discharged in the Napa River in the summer and may soon be banned completely.”

That begs the question: Does Coombsville really want water unfit to dump in the Napa River?

Todd lives in Napa.