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Climate and environmental downside of vineyards

I just the read the final installment of the Napa Valley Grapegrowers report titled “Climate benefits of ag land” (Dec. 14).

It is unfortunate the article presented only one side of the story and that the newspaper or the growers were not able to talk about the downside of vineyards in the Napa Valley. Certainly the most significant benefit to vineyards is to limit and restrict urban sprawl. Anyone who has lived in Northern California over the last 40 years can see the negative impacts of urban sprawl.

The article talks up the air quality, carbon sequestration, and watershed benefits of vineyards. However, woodlands and grasslands provide these same benefits without the negative impacts of vineyards of which there are many.

If you live reasonably proximate to a vineyard, your air quality, and likely your water quality, are impacted. Vineyards use tremendous amounts of fertilizers, soil amendments, pesticides, and herbicides. Much of what is applied to the vineyards drifts into the air; we breathe it. I regularly experience the impacts of night-time sulfur dusting and the subsequent off gassing as the weather warms after each application. Sulfur is the easiest to detect due to its smell.

It is obviously harmful given the protective gear worn by those driving the tractors. All the dead weeds under the vine rows are the result of RoundUp (or chemical derivatives). This can’t be healthy or good for us to breathe if it is killing live green plants.

Cultivation places significant fine particulate matters into the air; we breath it. Our houses, outdoor furniture, cars, and solar panels end up covered by dust resulting from cultivation. Just look at the air as a vineyard is cultivated (tilled).

As far as watersheds are concerned, vineyards have very bad impacts on watersheds, streams, and Napa River. Hillside vineyards result in erosion; there is no amount of straw you can lay down or culverts you can build to keep erosion out of our streams and the river. The Napa River is impaired for sediment (erosion), which impacts salmon and steelhead spawning.

There is no denying this. The abundant (actually overuse) of fertilizers make their way to our streams and river resulting in algae, which kills off fish and other habitat as the oxygen is sucked out of the water.

Napa County has the eighth highest (third highest, if age adjusted) cancer rate in the state out of 58 counties.

The point of all this is to provide the other side of the story. Vineyards can beneficially reduce urban sprawl, but there are numerous downsides. Given that vineyards are undeniably the valley’s crop of choice and given all the issues associated with them, we are owed a balanced assessment. Our county supervisors should be protecting its citizens.

Mark Smithers

St. Helena

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