On March 9th, the Napa County Farm Bureau held its first water forum in five or six years in St. Helena, California. Kicked off by Bureau President Jim Lincoln, the event was well attended, with over 100 concerned stakeholders listening to the most recent updates in California water issues.

Phillip Miller, the Deputy Director of Napa County Public Works, discussed a recent study by Napa County designed to compile countywide data, establish a framework for reporting, and provide recommendations related to any future groundwater permitting and monitoring program.

Of most interest was the presentation by Paula Whealen, a principal at the engineering firm of Wagner & Bonsignore. Ms. Whealen gave a general overview of new requirements for surface water users from the California State Water Resources Control Board (“SWRCB”), including:

  • All reports of licensees and progress reports by permittees and pre-1914 water right diverters are now due annually by July 1;
  • Reports must provide the monthly amount taken from the source;
  • They must state the monthly amount beneficially used; and
  • They must be filed electronically as of this year.
    • Filings will require high-speed internet access

Because all new reports must be filed electronically, the prior “fudge factor” regarding timelines for reporting will no longer exist. The SWRCB will be able to tell on July 2 who hasn’t filed the necessary reports. Failure to file all necessary reports constitutes non-compliance with the underlying water license/permit and can lead to fines and/or other administrative actions. It was also stated that, given the increase in the number of enforcement officers (25) and the establishment of a water rights enforcement office in Santa Rosa, California, there will be a significant increase in site inspections in the North Coast region.

A bit of sage advice given at the Forum is for all vineyard and winery owners operating under a license/permit to take it out, read it, and understand it. If you don’t understand your water rights permit, find someone who does, and most importantly, make sure you are in compliance. In addition, even for those sources that are not required to be reported (i.e., reclaimed water), it behooves vineyards and wineries to keep records of all water that is used on the property.