Vineyard erosion rules effort restarts

As state water-quality regulators prepare to try again this fall with a framework designed to control erosion into the Napa River and Sonoma Creek watersheds, winegrape growers in those areas are getting new tools to help prepare for the as-yet-undefined rules.

San Francisco Bay Regional Water Quality Control Board staff plan to issue notice by the end of June about the preparation of draft environmental-impact documents connected to general wastewater discharge requirements (WDRs) for vineyard operations in those watersheds, according to Naomi Feger, chief of the regional board's planning division.

"We will be looking at the regulations that exist in Napa and Sonoma (counties)," she said. "They will not be in conflict."

The goal is to hold the first scoping meeting in Napa in mid-July then compile comments from that gathering and those received during the crafting of a conditional waiver of WDRs for vineyards in the two watersheds, an effort that ended in March of last year amid opposition. The current timeline is to release a draft environmental document for the vineyard WDRs in late fall and convene the first public hearings in the first quarter of next year, Ms. Feger said.

The WDRs in the works build on Bay water board work over more than a dozen years to define total maximum daily loads, or TMDLs, for sediment and pathogens in the Napa River and Sonoma Creek watersheds. Board staff in early 2010 started working toward the conditional waiver framework, under which an owner or property manager would enroll, develop a farm water-quality management plan based on the highest historical runoff from the property then keep the farm plan up to date for planned projects and changing condition.

Some environmental-protection groups objected to what they deemed to be self-policing aspects of the waiver by allowing the use of third-party verification of farm plans rather than through the regulatory process. Farming groups objected to the draft farm plan rules, calling them too burdensome and bureaucratic.

To help avoid conflicts between stringent local erosion regulations such as those in Napa and Sonoma counties and those from third-party certification programs, Bay board staff has been in talks with county staff and resource management agencies such as the resource conservation districts (RCDs) of both counties and the Natural Resources Conservation Service, Ms. Feger said.

"There will be certification through third-party programs as part of the permit, and we're working with people involved to make sure their programs meet our requirements," she said.

Certification programs being considered are Fish Friendly Farming (called Napa Green Land in that county), the Code of Sustainable Winegrowing, Sustainability in Practice and the LandSmart program by the Sonoma RCD in conjunction with the Napa County RCD.

Sonoma RCD on June 10 said it received $275,000 in two grants from the State Water Resources Control Board for the LandSmart for Vineyards program (landsmart.org) to create up to 35 farm plans for Sonoma Valley growers.


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