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Accusations without evidence

Thank you, Mark Smithers, for acknowledging that the Napa winegrowing industry is the firewall between our agricultural landscape and that of urbanization. (“Climate and environmental downside of vineyards,” Jan. 10).

By accusing the winegrowing industry of causing all sorts of environmental ills, without any evidence, your letter becomes a perfect example of the conundrum that faces not only Napa County, but our nation as well. How can we ever solve our differences and make plans for the future, if we can’t agree on the science and basic facts underpinning the world around us?

Maybe the answer is that we can’t. Maybe we are locked in an eternal pugilistic contest with Aristotle in one corner championing “reason” while David Hume is in the other corner backing “emotion over reason.” Hopefully, this struggle doesn’t play out like many Greek dramas, destroying everything.

I believe the problem is founded in a lack of critical thinking, a rejection of facts and science that doesn’t fit into an emotional view of your surroundings. Why do you and the Vision 2050 crowd continually promote environmental falsehoods while ignoring the science that overwhelmingly refutes those claims?

By contrast, the wine industry’s success is because of science. The Napa Valley went from a sleepy provincial wine growing community to world preeminence because we embraced science both in the vineyards and in the winery.

I’ll condense your litany of accusations against vineyards into three areas; 1) the Napa River 2) hillside vineyards 3) vineyards cause cancer.

First, the Napa River is cleaner today than at any time in the past 60 years and it’s getting cleaner every year. On Feb. 12, 2014 the California Regional Water Quality Control Board voted to delist the Napa River for nutrients, in part because: “Although (Napa) vineyard use has increased over the past 30 years, vineyards use less nitrogen per acre than other regional crops. In addition, improved vineyard sediment controls and cover crops have reduced sediment and nutrient runoff.”

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In searching their website and speaking directly with the Regional Water Board, the Napa river is not listed for any pesticides such as Roundup or fertilizers such as phosphorus.

Second, to plant a new vineyard or to even replant a vineyard in our watersheds the applicant must have county approved design and engineered plans that allow for zero, yes, that’s right, zero erosion. These standards are the most stringent in the nation. On my own hillside vineyard, I have six sediment retention basins that capture any and all water that runs off our roads, avenues and roofs so that water is gently reabsorbed into the ground.

Additionally, hillside vineyards act as firebreaks that slow down and dampen the intensity of wildland fires, giving protection to the land, people and property. This checkerboarding of hillside vineyards with their permanent cover crops helps to mitigate erosion from the burned-over land by having islands of protected soil interspersed within the burned areas. In light of our past failed forest policies and the cost to thin our forests, hillside vineyards are a demonstrable environmental benefit to our community.

Third, you clearly imply that the high cancer rate in Napa County is the result of vineyards, with no substantiation. This is a reckless and irresponsible act on your part. Simply put, Mark, prove it or apologize to the Napa Valley wine industry for slandering us.

Stuart Smith

St. Helena

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