Proposed state regulations on North Coast vineyard erosion are moving toward draft rules to be considered for adoption in 2013.

Through Jan. 2, San Francisco Bay Regional Water Quality Control Board staff will be taking comments on a draft conditional waiver of waste-discharge requirements for vineyard properties in the Napa River and Sonoma Creek watersheds and an associated draft document on environmental affects of the waiver program. Those drafts were released Nov. 16, and the board is set to consider them at a public hearing set for Feb. 13 in Oakland.

Napa County Farm Bureau's Natural Resources Advisory Committee won't be meeting to craft comments on the San Francisco Bay water board draft documents until early December, but an initial review early last week revealed that not much had changed from the much-improved August draft waiver, according to Scott Greenwood-Meinert, a Dickenson Peatman & Fogarty attorney who sits on that farm bureau committee.

"The process it has gone through, to the regional board staff's credit, has become more friendly, but it also is more usable from the perspective of a grower subject to it," Mr. Greenwood-Meinert said.

Elements that have improved considerably over the past several months include greater alignment with and recognition of local government rules and third-party certification programs, namely Napa-based Fish Friendly Farming, better definitions of a road and responsibility for them, and smaller sizes of flatland and hillside parcels that could be eligible for a waiver, according to Mr. Greenwood-Meinert. 

He said the road definition in a previous draft earlier this year was a major concern because it would have required vineyard operators to prepare erosion-control measures for regular vehicle paths through vineyard rows in the same way as with graded roads. And the previous draft made a property owner responsible for roads through a property maintained by the owner of an adjacent parcel.

Remaining to be settled in a Napa River-Sonoma Creek waiver to grower satisfaction are what third-party organization or groups would be managing the five-year farming plans submitted under the waiver and collecting waiver fees to send to the State Water Resources Control Board and whether having those plans on file would open growers to regulatory and legal action, according to Mr. Greenwood-Meinert.

The farming plans would remain with the property owner and the third-party group, which wouldn't be subject to public records laws if the program were private.Meanwhile, North Coast Regional Water Quality Control Board staff have been developing an agricultural lands discharge program to address waste discharges from vineyards, orchards, medicinal marijuana farms, wholesale nurseries and greenhouses, livestock forage crops and irrigated pasture. A third round of meetings with stakeholder group were held in the latter half of October on permit requirements and elements to be included in farm water-quality plans. Stakeholder meetings on a draft waiver are set for the first half of 2013. The waiver and its environmental document are set for release in August in time for the regional board to consider it that December.

Comments on the proposed Napa River--Sonoma Creek vineyard discharge waiver can be sent by mail to San Francisco Bay Regional Water Quality Control Board, Attn: Sandi Potter, 1515 Clay St., Ste. 1400, Oakland, CA 94612; by fax to 510-622-2460; or by email to smpotter@waterboards.ca.gov. For more information, contact Ms. Potter at 510-622-2426 or by email, or visit www.waterboards.ca.gov/sanfranciscobay/water_issues/programs/TMDLs/vineyard.

Information on the North Coast water board's proposed agricultural lands discharge program is posted at www.waterboards.ca.gov/northcoast/water_issues/programs/agricultural_lands.