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North Bay Business Journal

Monday, May 20, 2013, 6:30 am

Wine business tackles climate, erosion policies

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    A number of new regulations related to dirt, air, water and energy are facing the North Coast wine business.

    In Napa County, vintners and growers trade groups are concerned about a coalescing county climate action plan (countyofnapa.org/CAP) that includes specific numerical targets for greenhouse gas reduction.

    The county Board of Supervisors sent the draft plan back for a rework in December after agricultural groups protested a number of elements, especially carbon offsets growers would have to buy because of certain viticultural operations. The board said it wanted offsetting measures to be done locally instead of completed elsewhere via a fee.

    The revised draft plan came to the county Planning Commission in early May. But a recently released list of best management practices for ag companies hadn’t been reviewed in time for the meeting, so the matter was postponed.

    One potentially problematic aspect of those BMPs is the inclusion of numerical targets for a number of elements, according to an official from a major ag trade group in the valley.

    “The problem is a lot of local measures we do can’t be quantified because the science isn’t there,” she said, speaking anonymously because her organization hasn’t taken an official stance on the plan.

    And the latest draft of the Napa County Climate Action Plan, in the works for several years, comes on the heels of an abandoned attempt earlier this year to create a special conditional waiver for viticultural operations in parts of Napa and southern Sonoma counties from stricter new Bay Area erosion-control requirements.

    One of the key industry concerns with the conditional vineyard waiver program developed by the San Francisco Bay Regional Water Quality Control Board was confidentiality of the five-year farming plans that would be filed as part of the program.

    Other sticking points with the draft vineyard waiver were that it duplicated Napa County hillside planting restrictions and California Environmental Quality Act-dictated review of significant vineyard projects. The draft also didn’t distinguish vineyard land from the rest of a property and would cost growers an estimated $38 million to $60 million over 20 years, according to Bay Basin Plan figures submitted to the Bay water board in February by Napa County Farm Bureau, Napa Valley Grapegrowers, Napa Valley Vintners and Winegrowers of Napa County.

    The Bay water board dropped the vineyard waiver plan and is working on accommodating vineyards under the general waste discharge requirements. WDRs specify how a business will operate so no to let pollutants — in this case, sediment — get into environmentally protected waterways.

    Meanwhile in Sonoma County, whether large-scale solar energy arrays should be allowed on vineyard land is being considered.

    The Sonoma County Board of Supervisors in early May considered a proposed renewable energy ordinance that would “prohibit” such systems in areas zoned “agriculture intensive” to produce no more than 125 percent of a property’s electrical needs.

    There have been concerns raised about the loss of productive farmland to so-called solar farms.

    The county’s three agricultural zones were created to protect farmland, Bob Anderson, executive director of United Winegrowers of Sonoma County, told the supervisors at the hearing.

    His group and others want clarification on language in the proposed ordinance about what would be allowed and what wouldn’t. The supervisors tentatively plan to take it up again on Aug. 6.

    A developing matter for trade groups in both counties is officials’ interest in monitoring usage of groundwater from private wells and in further limiting where wineries can be built, how many should be in the county and what wine-related operations are allowed on land under various protection methods such as California’s Williamson Act conservation easements or agricultural land trust requirements.

    “A vineyard is an ag use, but a winery in a vineyard may not be a compatible use in the way local governments go through land-use issues,” said Buzz Hines, partner and former Environmental Law Department chairman of law firm Farella Braun & Martel.

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    Comments

    1 Comment

    1. May 20, 2013, 10:25 am

      by Gordon Lehman

      Seriously? Even as the weight of scientific evidence grows daily that human greenhouse gasses are certainly not catastrophic and likely insignificant? Even as IPCC scientists furiously downshift their estimates of climate sensitivity as their models prove ever more blatantly wrong? When will the policy makers get up to speed?


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