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City of St. Helena

ST. HELENA — The City Council agreed Tuesday to endorse Measure C, the oak woodland and watershed initiative on the June 5 ballot, citing the need to protect the watershed surrounding St. Helena’s primary water source.

St. Helena is the first council in the county to take a position on Measure C.

Measure C would create new buffer zones around streams and limit the removal of oaks from the county’s Ag Watershed zones. In a 4-0 vote, with Councilmember Peter White absent, the council adopted a resolution supporting Measure C and stressing the important of managing the watershed surrounding Bell Canyon reservoir in a way that protects “the health and life safety of the residents of St. Helena.”

“At a time of increasingly stringent drinking water quality standards and customer expectations, these enhanced zones provide much needed protection from chemical and sediment loading of the Reservoir that adversely affect both the quality and quantity of stored water,” the resolution states.

Mayor Alan Galbraith was an early supporter of both Measure C and its 2016 predecessor, which never made it to the ballot. He noted that he and former Public Works Director Steve Palmer had expressed serious reservations in 2015 about the Davis Estates timber harvest permit involving land within the Bell Canyon watershed.

Galbraith said water supply and water quality remain important concerns in the watershed.

“We’ve suffered serious reduction in yield in Bell Canyon over the years, as well as degradation in water quality,” Galbraith said.

He rejected arguments by opponents that the measure lacks scientific basis and would increase traffic and be bad for farmers. He also dismissed the argument that voters should reject the measure and let the county government come up with a legislative alternative.

“We’re out of time, and we also cannot possibly contend … that any extension of time is going to result in a meaningful legislative fix,” Galbraith said. “The need for greater watershed protection in the hills has been under discussion for years.”

Councilmember Geoff Ellsworth also praised Measure C as “a critical measure” to protect the local water supply and prevent contaminants from entering the Napa River and making their way into the bay.

Councilmember Mary Koberstein said she supports Measure C because of water quality and the council’s “fiduciary duty” to protect the city’s water.

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St. Helena Reporter

Jesse has been a reporter for the St. Helena Star since 2006.