Chris Malan
Letter to the Editor, Napa Register
September 2, 2018

A few weeks ago, the Napa County Board of Supervisors had a robust discussion about beginning a strategic plan process for the county and the public is encouraged to participate.

Traffic, housing, children’s services, code enforcement, unchecked growth and the environment are top priorities for the supervisors. This process was begun after Measure C narrowly failed to be passed by voters last June.

Measure C would have created some protection for forests in our county that have been clear-cut for vineyards for decades. Forests serve the public good as ecological sponges that recharge groundwater and filter out pollutants that flow into our streams, river and reservoirs thereby eventually becoming our public water supply.

Additionally, the loss of steep slope vegetation for vines increases rate of runoff creating sedimentary erosion that carries pesticides and fertilizers that flow downstream and pollute all the way to the San Francisco Bay and the ocean.

Fertilizers or nutrients feed naturally occurring algae, like cyanobacteria, that then rapidly multiply and can suddenly, without warning, become toxic blooms that are known to be lethal. The Napa River downtown is currently posted with this algae warning.

Recently, the State Water Board passed unprecedented new water quality regulations called the General Wastewater Discharge Requirements, specifically designed for vineyards in Napa and Sonoma counties, and that follow Napa County’s 1990 erosion control ordinance known as the Conservation Regulations.

However, these regulations will not be enough to keep erosion from happening once forests are eliminated. Nothing takes the place of holding soils from eroding than nature’s trees, plants and grasses.

Since Napa County approves more than 50 wineries/year added to over 35,000 acres of vines in the county unincorporated areas (steep forested lands), water security becomes a must. We don’t need years and millions of dollars to perhaps develop a strategic plan to achieve water security in Napa County. We can simply amend the Conservation Regulations such that all streams in Napa County have water quality buffer zones and trees are left on slopes for not only wildlife but for human health safety and welfare.

Water security should be the first priority of the county strategic plan for these reason:

1. Our groundwater is not recharging above the rate of extraction due to irrigated vines causing environmental impacts such as salt water intrusion, streams drying up, declines in water quality and land subsidence. The State has told Napa County to begin a Groundwater Sustainability Plan, according to a new law passed in 2014, the Sustainable Groundwater Management Act, SGMA, which the county refuses to do. Rather, the supervisors want to study the science longer while our aquifers are declining more each year. This puts the public in peril of loosing our groundwater resources

2. The lower Napa River is now 303(d) listed via the Clean Water Act, CWA, for legacy pesticide and mercury pollutants. It took decades to get this listing and it could take years before clean up plans are approved by the Water Boards. While sediment and nutrient pollutants were CWA 303(d) listed decades ago, it has only been in the last year that polluters got regulated by the Water Boards to decrease this pollution.

3.) The supervisors allow 48 wineries to hold and haul 21 million gallons of winery waste in 13 trucks per day to East Bay Municipal Utility District for processing. This winery wastewater is too biologically ‘hot’ to be processed at the Napa County Sanitation District’s plant.

To avoid another grassroots environmental protection initiative to promote water security, the supervisors should impose a moratorium on any new vineyard development on slopes until the Conservation Regulations are amended and winery waste is processed locally by the wineries. Further, groundwater needs protection according to SGMA.
A win by Earth Law Foundation (ELF) that groundwater and surface water connections (where evidence shows) are to be protected by resource agencies for the Public Trust which is a corner stone of the Sustainable Groundwater Management Act, SGMA