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Stu Smith’s letter to my letter regarding vineyard impacts on water and air quality needs correcting and clarification. Although Stu characterized my letter as being about hillside vineyards, nutrients, and the Napa River; my letter was about much more.

In as much as Stu implied I lack critical thinking, I beg to differ. The river may have been delisted for nutrients, however that doesn’t mean nutrients aren’t more abundant then 60 years ago and that nutrient runoff isn’t causing algae to grow and suck the oxygen out of the river.

The river was impaired for nutrients for decades as the industry didn’t take it upon itself to act as good stewards of the land and environment and do the right thing from the beginning.

That said, there are some growers who have used sound environmental practices for a long time.

But given the general practices of most growers, the federal government was forced to step in and improve the situation. Visual inspection (I guess this isn’t scientific) provides numerous areas in the Napa River where algae is prevalent for many months out of the year. This is related to low water flows due to vineyard development of deep water wells reducing the water basin and aquifer that supports the Napa River. This is an easy middle school science fair demonstration.

To say the river is better than 60 years ago is a low bar. The Napa River is in better shape than it was 60 years ago when raw sewage, leather tanneries, slaughter houses and all sorts of businesses were dumping into the river; vineyards weren’t the river’s issue then.

We need our rivers and streams to be clean habitat for fish and wildlife.

And here is the issue; the industry doesn’t want to provide both the pros and cons of any issue. Although the river may now not be as affected by chemical runoff, it is still impaired for sediment. Stu avoided noting that issue.

The government (through the San Francisco Bay Regional Water Quality Control Board) is again involved because we haven’t dealt with the sediment issue for nearly 30 years. Sediment in the river limits salmon and steelhead spawning, which impacts fish survival and associated wildlife. I’d like to see fish flourish in the Napa River and streams as they once did years ago when old timers said they could walk across the river on the backs of fish.

Stu didn’t object to my comments regarding all the chemicals and particulate matter placed in the air due to vineyard activities. The lack of challenging those comments related to our breathing particulate matter, sulfur, roundup, fertilizers, and other chemicals applied in the vineyards suggests I’m completely right.

No research has been done to determine what effects this may have on us. It’s kind of like smoking and climate change. We don’t need science to tell us these things are bad; we see the effects while others tried to tell us there is no supporting science.

In as much as Stu thinks I’m “reckless and irresponsible” in my comments regarding the high cancer rates in Napa County, I didn’t tie this specifically to vineyard operations. I suggested a balanced review of the situation and effectively requested the county research this issue more deeply.

That said, we can’t deny there just might be a link to all the chemicals placed in our aquifer and air due to vineyard practices given the substantial uses and acreage especially in close proximity to where we live.

I certainly don’t owe an apology to the industry; this is research they should be doing honestly and fairly as all businesses have a duty to community, environment, and employees. It’s not supposed to be all about profits.

Mark Smithers

St. Helena

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