For vineyard owners in the Napa River and Sonoma Creek watersheds, the path to meeting new erosion control regulations became slightly less uphill this past week.
The San Francisco Bay Regional Water Quality Control Board on Tuesday approved four advisory programs to help grape growers comply with regulations the board passed last year aiming at limiting the amount of sediment that runs off of watershed properties into the Napa River or Sonoma Creek.
The rules call for growers in the watershed with more than 5 acres of vineyard to craft farm plans that meet the new standards for erosion control, a complex and potentially costly process that growers and industry officials say is eased by working through advisory programs.
Two of the four programs are already widely used by growers throughout Napa County to achieve Napa Green Land certification, an accreditation system for the local wine industry. To be Napa Green certified, vineyard owners go through either the Napa County Resource Conservation District (RCD)’s LandSmart program or the California Land Stewardship Institute’s Fish Friendly Farming program.
More than half of the vineyard acreage in Napa County is Napa Green Land certified, said Michelle Novi of the Napa Valley Vintners. Now, Novi said, “Participation in any of the programs is going to make the process of complying with these regulations more cost efficient.”
David Graves, co-founder of Saintsbury winery, agrees. “It’s definitely the case that certification through either of these programs will both achieve these results and make it easier for the landowners to comply.”
The Carneros winery will need an updated farm plan conforming to the Water Board’s new rules, Graves said, and will also seek recertification through Napa Green Land for the growing season ahead.
Saintsbury was the first to adopt an erosion control plan when the county’s erosion ordinances took effect in the early ‘1990s, Graves said. But in bringing the winery’s farm plan and certification up to date, he is eager “to reengage and update our practices to the latest and greatest.”
He also added, “It’s the right thing to do.”
To aid growers who come to them seeking a new or revised farm plan to meet the regulations, Napa RCD, for one, offers a farm plan template and hosts workshops to educate growers about its LandSmart program.
Napa RCD Executive Director Leigh Sharpe said the regulation itself “is quite lengthy and complex to understand.” But by going through LandSmart, or any of the third-party programs, growers can work with staff that know the ins and outs of the new regulations and can apply the measures needed in crafting a farm plan that makes the grade.
Any growers currently certified through the LandSmart program, Sharpe noted, are already in compliance with the new rules. “They have to implement their farm plans and do annual reporting, but it means that they have completed a farm plan, which is one of the things that they have to do under the new regulation.”
Other approved avenues for growers include the Sonoma County RCD’s LandSmart program and California Sustainable Winegrowing Alliance’s program.
Affected growers have until July to notify the Water Board that they intend to comply, though the board has extended that deadline by a year for those within the perimeters of the October wildfires.