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Some science behind the watershed ordinance

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How interesting that all commentators -- whether in the press or during the public hearings -- who blame the lack of science for the proposed watershed regulations come from the wine and farming industry.

By all standards, this is a self interested, conflicted group that has submitted no science itself to support its arguments that existing regulations are sufficient to prevent the downward spiral of all aspects of our environment. It is the all familiar model of financial interests denying the degradation they are inflicting upon it.

But those who have no financial interests to protect, see clearly what actual science tells us about current conditions and on what lies ahead for us all, including them and the very industry's survival. The scientific record submitted in the county file is comprehensive and voluminous on all aspects of the environment. This writing concentrates only on water quality.

Only deniers would argue that the findings of the 2009 San Francisco Bay Are Water Quality Control Board on the alarming degradation of the Napa River water quality are not based on science. Enough so, that the river has been listed as impaired under Section 303(d) of the U.S. Clean Water Act due to pathogens (RWQCB 2008), nutrients (RWCB 2003) and excessive sedimentation (RWCB 2007). This water in the river is our drinking water from stream runoff primarily from the watershed and spilling into and from our reservoirs in the winter.

Any doubters can look at Lake Hennessey's brown water that supplies the city of Napa. Our other reservoirs are in the same sad condition. The steadily declining fish population -- the pitiful few hundred Coho -- knows what the conflicted refuse to acknowledge.

Of the 170,000 tons per year of all man-made river sedimentation, 67,000 tons are directly attributed to vineyards and grazing land, even though they comply with the county's current erosion control measures. According to the 2012 San Francisco Estuary Institute's Napa River Watershed Profile report, these erosion control practices have the "unintended effect of increased runoff without a compensating increase in course sediment supply." The steady increase in fine river (and reservoir) slimy sediment is choking its oxygen regeneration, vital to a healthy fish population and our water quality.

In 2009, the Water Quality Board recognized that we are past the tipping point and set a goal of a 50 percent – yes, a full one half - reduction in fine river sedimentation and 51 percent for one generated by vineyards. The report, was revised in 2018 and found that nine years later we had made no progress. Reasonable people would agree that based on our available science something drastic needs to be done.

The conflicted deniers are guided by an additional motivation to resist change: The Water Board estimated that the goals it has set for Napa County will cost the wine industry $800,000-1.7 million per year for the next 20 years for a total of $16 million-$34 million. And as usual, the bulk of the cost, a staggering $34 million-$68 million to correct the development sins of the past will be borne by the public in the form of grants, meaning taxes.

Sadly, the proposed ordinance, while it will slow the rate of increases, will not even begin to reverse the trajectory towards what is an impending crisis.

George Caloyannidis


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