High-quality soils and the right climate played important roles in attracting wine grape growers to Napa County a generation ago. But it is the community’s commitment to protecting our shared natural resources that secured this path for our region.
The Watershed and Oak Woodland Protection Measure, Measure C is the next logical step in protecting the treasure that is the Napa Valley. In 1968, local visionaries worked to establish the Agricultural Preserve that is the cornerstone upon which Napa County’s wine industry was built. Measure A, Measure J, and Measure P further shored up the Napa Valley as a mecca for winemakers.
For these agricultural lands to survive into the future, the watershed must also be preserved. Without a secure water supply, there can be no Ag Preserve. We must protect the oak-studded hillsides from encroachment to replenish our groundwater and sustain the quality of the water that flows into the Napa River. Particularly with drought becoming more common in our region, protecting our water supply is essential for Napa Valley’s future.
Warren Winiarski wants us all to ask a simple question: “Will Napa be better off with this initiative in place?” Based on my experience with previous efforts to institute local environmental protections, my answer is an easy “yes.”
Some local grape growers and wine makers might not remember what life was like in Napa County before Measures A, J and P were passed – or that there was significant local opposition to these measures at the time of their passage. For that matter, even the establishment of the Ag Preserve itself was controversial.
Today, it’s hard to imagine our county without these protections in place. Through grassroots efforts, we have left the valley floor relatively intact for farming. By shifting minimum hillside parcel sizes first to 40 and then to 160 acres, the community recognized our hillsides as both the Agricultural Watershed that quenches our thirst and waters our crops and as open space, which visually defines our region.
The revolution to protect our shared resources is on-going. The 160-acre minimum parcel size on our hillsides is the key to preventing housing developments from encroaching into our oak woodlands, but these lands are now more vulnerable to the hunger of wine growers eager to expand.
But as a community we need to be proactive about finding the balance between protecting limited open space and supporting our regional economy.
We need the trees on Ag Watershed lands to replenish the water that supports the Ag Preserve. Rain falls and is caught in the tree canopy. It slowly enters the soil and recharges the aquifer below and replenishes our valley floor with clean abundant water for ag and residents alike.
Nap County’s land and water protection initiatives guard our soil and water from over-development, no matter which way the political winds blow. Right now, Napa County has a pro-development Board of Supervisors. Without this watershed protection initiative, further erosion of the Ag Preserve is inevitable. As community members and voters, we must be clear that endless development – whether for agriculture or housing – cannot be supported on our hillsides.
Tourism plays a key role in our local economy, while it also puts pressure on our shared resources. Selling wine directly to visitors is necessary, especially for small producers, to be sustainable. While the concentration of corporate interests who influence local trade groups and elected officials is growing.
The Napa Valley has about 3.5 million visitors a year – that’s 10,000 tourists per day. Yes, these visitors generate tax dollars and support wineries and auxiliary businesses like hotels and restaurants. But we must ensure that these industries, too, will have a sustainable water supply into the future if we expect these trends to continue. We must guard against the temptation to kill the goose that lays the golden eggs.
So, what will the treasure that is the Napa Valley be like in 50 years? It all depends on what we do now; for our actions now will determine our future. We need a balance that assures that the beauty and sustainability that we enjoy today will still be here for future generations.
I urge Napa County residents to join me in protecting the Ag Watershed, just as the Ag Preserve was protected 50 year ago. Come June, vote yes on the Watershed and Oak Woodland Protection Measure. Yes on C.