Napa County and the Bureau of Reclamation Consider Working Together to Rebuild Lake Berryessa

By Evan Kilkus

For those that are new to Lake Berryessa, at first glance it is hard to know anything is missing. There are two fully functional resorts with marinas, and three other resorts where you can take the family camping and boating. And of course, the lake itself is open and as beautiful as ever.  But, when visitors get hungry, dirty, or tired, upon closer look one can see that the services for the public at Lake Berryessa are limited. Very limited.

Lake Berryessa is the 3rd biggest lake in California, and of the top 3 big lakes, it is the warmest and arguably the best for swimming and boating. There used to be 7 restaurants accessible by boat, 7 resorts with over 200 cabins or motel rooms, hundreds of campsites with water, power, not to mention gas docks, paved roads, green grass.

What happened?  Many of you reading the Lake Berryessa News know the whole story. For those picking this paper up for the first time as you travel through beautiful Eastern Napa County, simply put, in 2005 the Bureau of Reclamation had a changed vision for the lake. They wanted to tear everything out and rebuild it to supposedly create more access and amenities for the public. Now, 10 years and 3 failed attempts later, the BOR is raising the white flag and admitting their solutions won’t work.

“Managing Partnership Agreement” may be the solution outdoor recreation enthusiasts and resort operators have been waiting for."

The BOR hosted another Community Forum meeting on June 22nd with a brand new player at the table, and a brand new phrase repeated over and over. Napa County has joined the discussion, and a “Managing Partnership Agreement” (MPA) was the talk of the night. “In a lot of cases the better option is to partner with a local agency”, stated BOR Deputy Regional Director Pablo Arroyave.  “There’s a lot of flexibility in the managing partner framework that we don’t have at the BOR”.  Key contract terms including contract lengths, design plans, and financial models can be different when offered to resort operators through an MPA.

According to Molly Rattigan, Principal Management Analyst for Napa County, another substantial difference is the MPA allows Napa County to use brokerage firms to seek out resort operators and attract them to Lake Berryessa. The BOR is strictly limited to how it can interact with potential contract bidders.

“We got approval from the Napa County Board of Supervisors to enter into preliminary negotiations with the BOR”, stated Rattigan. “We are going to start as soon as we can this summer. We are entering into this with the hope that this will work… we are cautiously optimistic and hopeful.”  Rattigan did bring up that “cost and liability is a concern,” but there are several tax opportunities they are evaluating.

Arroyave started the meeting by saying that Commissioner of Reclamation Estevan Lopez met with Napa County in April, and the discussions have been going well since.

Napa County Staff report initial finding to Board of Supervisors

At the recent Board of Supervisors meeting, Napa County staff presented their preliminary findings after four months of investigating how to help the mostly closed Lake Berryessa Region. County staff met with BOR and toured 5 resorts in that time, and their conclusion is it could be possible and would be beneficial for Napa County to enter into a MPA with the BOR.

In such a situation, Napa County would only manage the concession contracts for the resort operators, while the BOR would still maintain a presence at the lake managing their existing day use facilities and the water operations.  Solano County’s water rights would be unaffected.

The Online Board Recap after the meeting stated, “Under this type of agreement, Napa County may be able to successfully seek and manage concessions more efficiently and successfully without many of the BOR policy constraints and could help attract suitable investors.”

BOR Deputy Regional Director Pablo Arroyave attended the meeting, and said ”Reclamation is very appreciative and excited about exploring this opportunity”.  According to the Napa County Report, “BOR has successful Managing Partner Agreements with Santa Barbara County at Cachuma Lake, the East Bay Regional Parks District for Contra Loma Reservoir, and the State of Wyoming for Keyhole State Park, among many others.”

Residents from the Berryessa region spoke up at the Board of Supervisors meeting, and every one of them said “Go for it”, “Thank you”, and “Make it a good contract.” Environmentalists, businessmen, young and not so young, all emphasized how much they want Napa County to take charge and reopen this local destination.

The distant light at the end of the 10 year tunnel

“It is possible to have a draft agreement by this fall”, stated Arroyave. Napa County will be working with Napa’s Visitors Bureau, Visit Napa Valley, among other consulting and legal firms to find terms for the MPA they feel resort operators can work with.

The Napa County Regional Parks & Open Space District will also be working with the county on this process. “I’m committed to put a lot of energy into this,” said Brent Randol, Ward III Director. “This is a great resource for Napa County residents”.

Napa County staff will meet continue to meet with the BOR staff to gather more information.  They will then report back to the Board at a future BOS Meeting. The BOR suggested that the next Community Forum Meeting be in October, giving them all time to see where this process gets them and to report back to the public when they hope to have some reportable results.                       © Peter Kilkus 2018