Regulations in the Works for Napa River, Sonoma Creek

November 2014
by Stephen Ferry

Publication of draft General Waste Discharge Requirements (WDRs) for vineyards in the Napa River and Sonoma Creek watersheds is tentatively scheduled for January-May 2015, according to Mike Napolitano, engineering geologist with the San Francisco Bay Regional Water Quality Control Board (RWQCB).

The General WDRs will take the place of the Waiver of Waste Discharge Requirements regulatory arrangement that the RWQCB offered to the growers in 2013. It was rejected by growers and environmental groups alike.

This is an issue because a long-established program of water quality assessment, set out for all bodies of water in the United States in the Clean Water Act of 1972, has found the Napa River and Sonoma Creek watersheds to be impaired due to excessive sedimentation. Wine grape vineyards are among the potential sediment sources that are drawing increased scrutiny. The General WDRs would regulate discharges in order to achieve the performance standards for sediment and storm runoff set forth in the sediment Total Maximum Daily Loads (TMDLs) for Napa River and Sonoma Creek, with the overarching goals of reducing nonpoint source pollutant discharges from vineyards and protecting and enhancing beneficial uses including the protection of anadromous fish habitat.

The proposed General WDRs would regulate discharges from vineyards in the Napa River and Sonoma Creek watersheds. The General WDRs would apply to a group of new and existing vineyards (including replants) based on eligibility criteria described in the notice of preparation and initial study. The eligible vineyards would, in general, be required to:

1. Submit a Notice of Intent to comply,

2. Prepare a Farm Water Quality Plan that identifies potential sediment sources and management practices to reduce those discharges,

3. Implement the chosen management practices,

4. Submit an annual compliance report that would identify what actions were taken to control sediment discharges.

A public California Environmental Quality Act (CEQA) scoping meeting for the proposed new regulation was held July 23, 2014, in Napa and provided the opportunity for the RWQCB to update the community on how the issue is progressing.

RWQCB is anticipating a publication date for the draft general permit in early 2015, and that the EIR for the project would probably be released at the same time. This would be followed by a 45-day comment period, which would be the time for the regulated community to make their concerns known in writing.

Here are some of the specific features of these new draft regulations:

• Vineyards smaller than 5 acres would not be required to seek coverage under the General WDRs.

• Stream setback requirements would generally be 35 feet.

• County-approved erosion control plans (ECPs) would meet standards.

• General WDRs would involve inspections of the covered vineyard properties by the RWQCB staff at irregular intervals. They would be looking at roads in particular.

• Annual self-reporting to the RWQCB regarding effectiveness of erosion control measures would be required. There would be some sort of template for this report, and these reports would be public information.

• No individual water quality sampling would be required.

• The RWQCB would be sampling within the watersheds to monitor sedimentation in the gravel beds that anadromous fish use for egg laying.

• Individual site farm plans would be required. They would be kept onsite and not submitted to any public agency nor made public information.

According to the admittedly fast-tracked proposed project schedule, the general WDRs would go to the full RWQCB Board during the second half of 2015 for adoption. A major justification for the accelerated schedule is that virtually all of the CEQA environmental review that was completed for the WDR waiver process is felt to be applicable to the General WDRs covering the same activities.

The way things stand now, concerned parties will have only the 45 days following the release of the Draft WDRs next year to review the proposed regulation and submit comments.

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