Earlier this month a regional water quality control board dropped a proposed set of erosion and runoff regulations for the Napa River watershed, but Napa County agricultural and environmental groups are waiting to see what they’ll replace it with.

Called a conditional waiver, the proposal would have affected new and existing vineyards in the Napa River and Sonoma Creek watersheds, and required them to develop farm water quality plans that document water runoff, erosion, and pesticide and fertilizer use, among other aspects.

The waiver, which would have required annual compliance monitoring and reporting to the San Francisco Bay Regional Water Quality Control Board, was released in draft form last November. The watersheds include more than 59,000 acres of planted vineyard in the two counties, according to the regional board.

After receiving comments on the proposal, the regional board dropped the conditional waiver in early March, before it was scheduled to hold a hearing on the matter.

Jim Lincoln, a past president of the Napa County Farm Bureau, said local agricultural groups have been told the conditional waiver will be replaced with something similar, called a general order.

“We’re all wondering where it’s going to go,” Lincoln said Friday.

Tom Lippe, an attorney who’s represented the Napa-based Living Rivers Council, said he is also waiting to see what the regional board will decide to pursue.

“I don’t have any deeper insight into what they’re going to do,” Lippe said.

The regional board has adopted a total maximum daily load (TMDL) of sediment in the Napa River as a means of safeguarding water quality and protecting fisheries. The conditional waiver and the general order are ways of implementing the TMDL, Lincoln said.

In a letter to the regional board, the Napa County Farm Bureau, Napa Valley Grapegrowers, Napa Valley Vintners and Winegrowers of Napa County asserted that the conditional waiver would duplicate conservation measures already on the books in the county.

Lincoln said it would only mean extra paper work and extra costs for growers in Napa County, as vineyard owners already take steps to manage erosion control and vineyard runoff.

“It’s completely duplicative,” Lincoln said of the conditional waiver. “This thing is just going to be a nuisance.”

Lincoln said farming practices in Napa County have improved greatly in the last two decades, which has resulted in improvement in the Napa River and its native salmon and steelhead species.

“We’re all for improving our farming practices,” Lincoln said. “There is improvement in the river. We’ve come along way in the last 10 to 20 years.”

Lincoln said local agricultural groups have concern that a general order would result in some farming techniques and strategies, which growers want to keep confidential, would be divulged as public information.

“I think the real concern that I have is that now it’s a general order, is that it’s going to be public information,” Lincoln said.

In a letter to the regional board, Chris Malan of the Living Rivers Council also expressed concerns with the draft conditional waiver, saying it would create a loophole for smaller vineyard projects because they wouldn’t be subject to the regulations.

She expressed concern that this would lead to fragmented forests in Napa County, cause more deforestation and a reduced ability to store carbon needed to combat climate change.

Malan argued that the farm plans should be public, because they involve runoff and erosion control of public waterways.

“The public has a right to know if vineyards are polluting the waters of the state and not complying with water quality objectives for these sediment TMDLs,” Malan wrote.

(2) comments


Napa County already has the toughest environmental regulations arounds. This whole thing is duplicitous. I can understand why people would want their water board-approved farm plans to remain confidential. Otherwise they become clear targets for Chris Malan and her merry band of vexatious litigators.


Secret government and secret farm plans under the proposed waiver program in lieu of government enforcement are not allowed to be kept closeted from the public. How are we, the public, to know if they are effective or not if they are hidden in a black box?
The other issue is the role of government as the enforcer of regulation. They decided, after legal review, that they cannot foist off their enforcement authority and responsibility to a third party, i.e. Fish Friendly Farming plans.
After they reviewed their legal obligations under the law the Water Board decided to drop the waiver program. No other industry seeks the same scale of exemptions from pollution regulations under waivers, why should farming be the exception?

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