Grape growers in the Napa River and Sonoma Creek watersheds face new regulations designed to help reduce sediment eroding into waterways where it can hurt fish.
The San Francisco Bay Regional Water Quality Control Board on Wednesday passed regulations that have been years in the making. Growers will have to prepare farm plans to control sediment, nutrients and other materials that can run off during storms from vineyards and dirt roads.
Vineyard properties in Napa and Sonoma counties affected by the regulations total 162,000 acres, of which 59,000 acres have planted vines and the rest have roads, farm buildings, natural vegetation and other features, the Water Board said.
“As a grower, you’re facing a very complex monitoring process and increased burdens, especially on small growers -- cost and time,” said Molly Moran of Napa Valley Grapegrowers on Thursday.
The Water Board’s goal is to reduce human-caused sediments washing into local waterways by 50 percent to protect fish and their spawning grounds.
“The Napa River, Sonoma Creek and their tributaries provide habitat for federally listed steelhead populations, locally rare Chinook salmon populations and exceptionally diverse native fish assemblages,” the regulations said.
Elevated levels of fine sediment are a threat to fish populations and other species such as the California freshwater shrimp and foothill yellow-legged frog, it said. Vineyard properties, including unpaved roads, are “significant” sources of this sediment, it said.
Napa Valley Grapegrowers is committed to protecting water quality, Moran said. The group will continue looking for options that might be more effective and less burdensome, such as using satellite and drone technologies to pinpoint where steps should be taken.
Water Board research said complying with the regulations could cost $20 to $315 per acre annually, corresponding to a 1-percent to 8-percent increase in total operating costs for a typical vineyard. A 10-acre property on the valley floor would face different costs than a 640-acre property on a hillside.
After development and implementation of a farm plan within a decade, a grower’s compliance costs would substantially decrease, to less than 2 percent of operating costs, the Water Board concluded.
Michelle Novi of Napa Valley Vintners isn’t convinced the Water Board's cost estimate is accurate.
“I think time will tell when the program gets going what it actually ends up costing vintners and grape growers,” Novi said. “I hope that it is manageable.”
The new regulations won't change anything overnight, Novi said, but growers should start planning financially for the potential costs.
About 70,000 acres in Napa County –- not all of it vineyards -- is already enrolled in voluntary programs such as Fish Friendly Farming and LandSmart, Novi said. She recommended growers join, not only because of the new regulations, but because it is the right thing to do.
A Water Board document said properties with farm plans developed under Fish Friendly Farming and LandSmart and hillside properties with county-approved erosion control plans might already be achieving performance standards for the new regulations.
Some groups thought the new regulations should go further. San Francisco Baykeeper said in a December letter the rules don’t provide monitoring, reporting and feedback mechanisms to ensure sediment reductions are actually made.
California Fisheries and Water Unlimited said in a September letter the Water Board needs to address water quantity problems as well as water quality problems to help fish.
An estimated 30 percent of the Napa River watershed is captured by public and private reservoirs, Christina Baiocchi Aranguren wrote on behalf of the group. Many ignore state laws requiring the release of sufficient water to keep fish below dams in good condition, she said.
But for now, the new regulations as adopted are what confront local growers. Both Napa Valley Grapegrowers and Napa Valley Vintners intend to educate their members about the requirements.