High-quality soils and the right climate played important roles in attracting wine grape growers to Napa County a generation ago. But it is the community’s commitment to protecting our shared natural resources that secured this path for our region.
The Water, Forest and Oak Woodland Protection Initiative is the next logical step in protecting the treasure that is the Napa Valley. In 1968, local visionaries worked to establish the Agricultural Preserve that is the cornerstone upon which Napa County’s wine industry was built. Measure A, Measure J, and Measure P further shored up the Napa Valley as a mecca for winemakers by establishing minimum acreages for development in key agricultural areas and reinforcing community control over major land use decisions.
For these agricultural lands to continue to thrive into the future, the watershed must also be preserved. Without a secure water supply, the Ag Preserve is a meaningless designation. We must protect the oak-studded hillsides from encroachment to replenish our groundwater and sustain the quality of the water that flows into the Napa River. Particularly with drought becoming more common in our region, protecting our water supply is essential for Napa Valley’s future.
We asked ourselves a simple question when this initiative was conceptualized: “Will Napa be better off with this initiative in place?” Based on our experience with previous efforts to institute local environmental protections, the answer was an easy “yes.”
Some local grape growers and wine makers might not remember what life was like in Napa County before Measures A, J and P were passed — or that there was significant local opposition to these measures at the time of their passage. For that matter, even the establishment of the Ag Preserve itself was controversial.
Today, it’s hard to imagine our county without these protections in place. Through grassroots efforts, we have left the valley floor relatively intact for farming. By shifting minimum hillside parcel sizes first to 40 and then to 160 acres, the community recognized our hillsides as both the Agricultural Watershed that quenches our thirst and waters our crops and as open space, which visually defines our region.
There was outcry throughout the process of adopting all of these environmental measures, and yet now everyone acts like they always enjoyed strong wine industry support. For those of us who were there, we know that this retelling of history is simply untrue.
The revolution to protect our shared resources is ongoing. The 160-acre minimum parcel size on our hillsides is the key to preventing housing developments from encroaching into our oak woodlands, but these lands are now more vulnerable to the hunger of wine growers eager to expand. As a community we need to be proactive about finding the balance between protecting limited open space and supporting our regional economy.
We need the trees on Ag Watershed lands to clean and capture the water that supports the Ag Preserve. Rain falls and is caught in the tree canopy. It slowly enters the soil and recharges the aquifer below and replenishes our valley floor with clean abundant water for ag and residents alike.
Napa County’s land and water protection initiatives guard our soil and water from over-development, no matter which way the political winds blow. Right now, Napa County has a pro-development Board of Supervisors. Without this watershed protection initiative, further erosion of the Ag Preserve is inevitable. As community member and voters, we must be clear that endless development — whether for agriculture or housing — cannot be supported on our hillsides.
In favor of Napa County Measure C on the June 5 ballot
Mike Hackett, a longtime Napa County resident and a member of Save Rural Angwin, is one of the lead proponents of Measure C.
Randy Dunn is the founder of Dunn Vineyards on Howell Mountain in Angwin in Napa County. He’s been making wine in the Napa Valley since the late 1970s.