SodaCanyonRoad | New Rector watershed development

New Rector watershed development

Bill Hocker | Nov 25, 2015 on: The Rector Watershed

[Email sent to Planning Director David Morrison on 11/24/15]

Director Morrison,

I hate to bother you. Gary Margadant just sent over a list of ECP's which I see added another expansion of Stagecoach vineyards at the top of Soda Canyon Rd. (my own less accurate list is at the top of this page) Right now the list includes the following projects in that same Rector watershed:

Stagecoach 116 acres
Orin Swift 108 acres
Hendrickson 28 acres
Vongone 8 acres

That's 260 acres of new vineyard development. That means a lot more new wells. A lot more traffic on a long 1-lane gravel road and on the already problematic Soda Canyon Rd.

Below is a Google map image of the Rector watershed.

I had felt, looking at the google map, that perhaps vineyard development was reaching a limit on the Rector watershed (the Chopping property just north of Antica is the only large chunk left). If you scroll around on google maps you will see that It is more developed than any other mountain watershed in the county by a wide margin. But apparently development is still going to continue. Is there no concern on the county's part about the impact that such a massive amount of vineyard development in the last 20 years is having on the Rector watershed and on the water supply for Yountville and the Veterans Home? I assume that Rector Reservoir still fills up, but shouldn't someone be doing some studies to verify that it will continue to fill up even as more and more acres are developed? Given the EIR required for Walt Ranch's 500 acres and the EIR required for Circle S's 460 acres, it does seem odd that the Rector watershed has had perhaps a thousand acres added since 1996 (plus the 700 acres developed in the 1980's) and now is planning another 313 acres and that, to my knowledge, no EIR has ever been required. These developments encompass almost the entire Rector watershed. Am I out of line in asking about this?

Bill Hocker

The Google map of the area is here
Download link to Google Earth view of watershed

Divid Morrison replies:

Mr. Hocker,

Of course you are not out of line for raising these concerns. These are serious issues and you are relying on observable information.

You are correct about the overall pattern of development. Staff has also noticed that the Rector Reservoir watershed has seen the greatest amount of interest in vineyard development over the past 10-15 years. We generally analyze projects with the GIS database and hadn’t looked at an aerial photo comparison. Thank you for passing that along, it was very informative.

A couple of notes for clarification. The acreages listed are gross acres, not net acres. They include farm roads, staging areas, and other ancillary uses to the vineyard. The number of proposed planted acres is less than 285 acres.

Havenner has already been approved.

Please note that further development is proposed to continue. The outcomes of these applications remain to be seen. Not all applications are approved. While the County does not have the ability to legally prohibit people from pursuing what the zoning and General Plan permits, it also cannot guarantee a successful outcome for the applicant.

EIRs were required for both the Circle S and the original Stagecoach applications. EIRs are currently being prepared for the new Stagecoach application and the Orin Swift proposal. An EIR is also being prepared for Walt Ranch. We are reviewing the appropriate level of CEQA review for Hendrickson.

The General Plan anticipated that 12,500 acres of new vineyards would be planted between 2005 and 2030. At this point in time, based on a straight-line projection, the County should have approved 5,000 acres. To date, the County has approved 3,587 new acres of vineyards. This isn’t offered to justify the approval of any pending applications, only to note that overall vineyard development across the County is running less than expected. Currently, the County has about 1,000 acres of proposed vineyard pending. What activity that is occurring, however, is somewhat concentrated in the Rector watershed.

Impacts to both surface water and ground water supplies are required to be evaluated in any EIR, as are cumulative impacts. The County is very aware of the broader implications of vineyards expanding within the hillside areas and are thoroughly looking at each proposal for its potential impacts.

I would be glad to speak with you further about this and other concerns. If you have any questions or have information to share with us that sheds light on potential issues, please feel free to share them with us.

Thank you for bringing this to my attention.


John Dunbar replies:

Bill, thanks for copying me on this email. I have forwarded to Town Manager for further discussion.
I also plan to contact Supervisors as they consider the APAC recommendations on Dec. 8.
As Rector is Yountville's primary water source, I appreciate the information.

Cheers! John Dunbar

Bill Hocker replies:

Dir. Morrison,

Rector Watershed

My sincere thanks for the reply (and for yours, Mr Dunbar). My concern in the issues that have come up in the last 2 years, triggered by MPV next door, have more to do with the impacts of tourism and urban development than in vineyard conversion and water availability. We have watched from our perch up on Soda Canyon Road in the last 20 years most of the conversion that has happened north and west of Antica. I have been less concerned because, as many pro-growth editorials in the NVR now hammer, it's agriculture or houses. (I'm afraid I have a slightly different definition of agriculture than they have - or the county has.) Also much of the land developed on the Rector plateau was scrub land. Further development is a concern because it is now pushing into the woodlands higher on the ridges, and in the battle over woodlands vs vineyards I think its time to start protecting woodlands. (The recent flattop haircut given to the knoll just south of Clos de Val is an utter travesty on the landscape.)

While others will probably take on the water threats to Rector reservoir, my concern with further conversion is in the additional traffic that it will generate on the road. The residents of SCR are now in continuous battle mode with the new and potential wineries on the road and a key issue is traffic (as it is everywhere in the county). So far the largest traffic impact on the road has been from the vineyard development and we are now up to a 30-50 car caravan filled with vineyard workers each afternoon, and the occasional heavy equipment and trucks. (Most of us aren't up when the crews arrive in the morning). If the 200+ acres are added it will mean just that many more opportunities for an accident and a somewhat longer line up at the Trail trying to make that hair-raising LOS F left turn.

If these conversions are going to be allowed, is it time to begin explorating the feasibility and practicality of shuttles as a way to move workers to the vineyards. Do such shuttles already exist in the valley? Have they ever been considered as a potential to reduce traffic county wide? In the case of SCR I'm not sure whether 50 cars are any safer than 5 large buses but perhaps the idea needs to be broached. One of many fanciful solutions (briefly mentioned on the SCR website solutions page here) are airport parking structures with shuttles for workers and tourists throughout the county.

The Trail at Soda Canyon

In a recent email to Mr. McDowell (I will send you a copy) I raised another issue about development concentration at the other end of Soda Canyon Road. My screed on it is here. It was triggered by the upcoming Reynolds winery request and I began to envision what the approved and pending winery use permits might mean for that chunk of the Trail. As you mentioned, looking at the cumulative impacts in a graphic form presents a perspective that is often lost in the scrutiny of individual projects even if cumulative impacts are discussed in reports. Cumulative impacts in reports, of course, never seem to consider what might occur if all adjacent properties are allowed to develop in a manner similar to the application.

The area of the Trail at the bottom of SCR is beginning to approach buildout and I would argue that the winery strip mall, already a feature of certain stretches of Hwy 29 is now a possibility on the Trail as well. It is evident that it may be more logical to have 3 lanes along this entire stretch rather than a series of left turn bumps. Either scenario, while perhaps somewhat safer, is a clear sign that the fate of the Trail, given continued winery development, will ultimately be no different than Hwy 29. And that is a tragedy. As I mentioned in the screed, cruising the Trail is the time and place where the iconic, even mythic, character of the Napa Valley becomes visible for most residents and visitors alike. Is it not time to consider the views from the Trail as a scenic resource more important to the future of the county than the tourist dollars generated by the wineries and signs and "art" that will obscure the view? It needs much more protection than the General Plan, setback and viewshed ordinances currently give it.

Forgive me for rambling on here. As you said, I feel these to be serious issues and they are becoming more and more observable.

Divid Morrison replies

Mr. Hocker,

No apologies necessary. I can see how my comments may have been interpreted in that manner.

For the record, I agree that the issue of when public art becomes a part of commercial branding is a valid concern. However, I am also familiar with the challenges involved in regulating First Amendment speech. The Supreme Court has ruled on this kind of issue numerous times, clearly stating that regulating the content of speech may be allowed only when narrowly tailored to serve a compelling state interest. That sets a very high bar for government when it seeks to limit what people can say and how they say it. While I understand the sentiments and concerns regarding the use of iconic art in a commercial setting, I can’t in good faith recommend to the Commission or the Board of Supervisors a course of action that would not stand in court and would result in public tax dollars paying attorney’s costs for the ACLU or other prevailing parties.

Certainly a more equitable approach would be, as you suggest, to prohibit all structures within 600 feet of certain roads (possibly with exceptions for gates, fences, water wells, etc.). Then private art would not be singled out for discrimination. And you would have to take into consideration structures that are already within the setback. Would additions be allowed? My guess is that expanding the restriction, both to include a greater range of buildings and to include more roadways, would create a great deal of concern from affected landowners.

Another approach, as staff has suggested to the Commission, would be to adopt design standards. While standards could not regulate content, they could provide a vehicle for the community to agree on what the rural landscape should generally look like.

The policies regarding scenic highways are found in the Community Character Element, not the Circulation Element. You may want to talk with the Board of Supervisors to see if there would be any support in providing staff with that direction.

Thank you for sharing your thoughts. I hope you find this information useful.

Gary Margadant adds:

I am glad you reviewed the list and discovered the proposed stress on Rector Watershed, so it made me happy to have gained the data from David, yet sad as to the degree. I had no intention of ruining your turkey dinner on Thursday.l Perhaps a stiff whiskey might help with the merriment.

YET this brings to mind something that was achieved with Walt and Davis. We were able to involve the municipal entities that rely on the watersheds for their resident's drinking water: Napa City and St Helena.. In this case I would highly recommend some consultation with Yountville and the Dept of Veteran Affairs (Veterans Home) concerning these projects that might impact their water source.
I would suggest contacting John Dunbar and the Yountville town council to alert them to the possibility of future erosion.

A caveat: Yountville holds a contract with the Dept of Veteran Affairs to supply the town with 500 acre feet of water per year, drawn from the Rector Reservoir. They certainly are a stakeholder that depends on this water source and any reduction in water supply would require the town to increase use of their Groundwater via town wells. This very fact would provoke a reaction from the Farm Bureau that was very active in comments to the town council when the well/wells were proposed. Check the Register articles for the timing.

John F Dunbar, Mayor, Town of Yountville, re-elected to a second term as Mayor November 4, 2014, (707) 948-2637,

The Department of Veterans Affairs is a different kettle of fish. I only have contacts for the maintenance dept at their facility, and I think you need contacts within the Sacrament Office. You and I started research into the dates of a previous ECP failure that fouled Rector Reservoir (from Stagecoach Vineyards ???? Middle 90's??). This erosion damage was on a par with Bell Canyon and the Viader Vineyards (David Abreu). The filters @ Rector were destroyed by the silt fouling and a new filter system had to be installed ($$$ unknown).

Rector Water flows through the Vets Home and Yountville and into the sewage treatment plant that provide tertiary treatment for the water, which they then use to water their golf course, AND sell recycled water via a pipeline that reaches all the way to Silverado Trail and Chimney Rock Winery, with many vineyards along the way. CRW used to have a golf course that needed the water, but vineyards have replaced that demand. So any loss in sewerage volume as a result of Rector failure, diminishes a contracted recycled revenue stream (they also sell water for trucking at the plant (inside the golf course).

There certainly more ramifications then mentioned that enterprising others will contemplate.

Let me know How I can Help with teamwork and information.

Jim Wilson adds:

Hi Bill and Gary,

Thanks for pursuing this. We set up an action that led the City of Napa to request a report on the condition of their local watersheds supplying water to the city. The report was agendized and delivered by the Water Division to the council. They unanimously agreed to its recommendations and are now asking the County for enhanced protections in the headwaters to their drinking water supply. We finished up that action by turning out a fair sized group to public comment at a BOS meeting encouraging action on 18.108.027, I think it was...

St. Helena reached out to Napa for its report. It's using those findings to resist the same policy that would allow further degradation of its own sensitive watershed. Prior to close of comments, and with our encouragement, the City of Napa wrote letters to the County strongly opposing WALT and Kongsgaard. St. Helena did the same in opposition to Davis. We had multiple meetings with Napa Vice Mayor Sedgely and St. Helena Mayor Galbraith. You might talk with Mayor Dunbar and point him to those gentlemen. Find a water user (rate payer) in Yountville to join in. Scott Sedgley has been especially helpful in champing our cause.

Chris Malan adds:

Interesting how the 60% tree canopy and 40% understory retention plays out in the Conservation Regulation/ordinance to ‘protect sensitive watershed' or municipal watersheds……this is Rector watershed above the Rector Reservoir. At a minimum we use Rector as an example of 60% 40% that resulted in this bad outcome.

Ginna Beharry adds;

How about a LTE discussing this data to Yountville and Napa papers. I also think the data about the production and visitation numbers in the pipeline will shock people and needs an LTE also.

Gary Margadant adds:

Great points Ginna, maybe you, me and Bill Hocker can divide up the issues for individual LTE's.  Any recommendations for other writers??  Any recommendations on other topics of discussion?
I also think the biggest push should be on a couple of fronts: 

1.  The cumulative Impact of all these vineyards and ECP's on the Rector Water shed.  (I wanted to see what PBES and David Morrison was seeing in the proposed changes to the land use in Napa County.  Do they see cumulative Impacts?  What does the Conservation department see and how do they come to the conclusions of a Negative Mitigated Declaration for each new project.  When is an EIR a good idea for that Watershed?)
2.  The % of land in the watershed used for vineyards and the state of the vegetation in the watershed.  (60% tree canopy and 40% understory retention required).  With the reduction in canopy and the addition of vineyards, how does this change affect the ability of the vegetation to filter and retain the soils and minerals on the hillsides and out of the water reservoir.  In other words, how is this new vineyard activity changing the mineral and chemical content of the Reservoir Water.
3.  Fertilizers and other Ag chemicals used in the vineyards and watershed that have the potential to migrate into Rector Reservoir and the drinking water supplies of Yountville and the CA Veterans Home.  (In other words, What is in your Drinking Water and are the residents acting as filters for the runoff from the vineyards?).
4.  Erosion into the Reservoir that is reducing the amount of available storage and the ability of the existing filters to remove the impurities in #3 & #4.  What are the infrastructural costs as a result of the vineyards installation. (Water Rates in Yountville).
5.  As a result of the Erosion Blowout in the 1990's that fouled Rector Reservoir and forced a new filter installation, did the Vineyards pay for this damage to repair the infrastructure?  Did they admit their failure to keep their soils on their property as defined by the ECP's, and pay for the damage?  Or did they blame the county for a failed ECP process?

Lets work on this.

Christine Aranguren adds:

Also… Rector Reservoir is reputed to be out of compliance with Section 5937, the CA law which mandates the bypassing of water behind dams for fisheries. With cities like Calistoga and Los Angeles losing legal challenges to this, it is only a matter of time until Rector (and other non-compliant dams) are targeted as well.

Bill Hocker - Aug 29, 2016 4:55PM

Ken Chopping adds:

I read the entire update and noticed that you sent email to Planning Director and stated that Chopping land was the last or only larger tract not yet proposed for vineyard dev. Portions of our land have been cleared, ripped, rocks removed, and planted with olive trees (2 groves, approx. 150 trees/ 2 acres). almond orchard (approx. 1 acre) plus approx. 8 acres of pasture/crop land. Also, we planted a walnut orchard (approx. 1 acre), altho that was not ripped and was not successful. So our land has had development for ag uses./ We have tried to prevent soil erosion and always take measures to minimize or prevent erosion when we do any land work and we have watched winter runnoff to be sure we have no problems. . This year we expect much more erosion than normal due to extensive rooting that has occurred by wild pigs and is beyond our control. We support sound agricultural practices. We are experiencing a die-off of native pine trees, likely caused by beetles. We are seeing an increased loss of oak trees due to damage in past fires and perhaps the current drought. We have been seeing a dying of manzanita, cause unknown but I suspect a bug or disease. We have never had manzanita dying prior to about 2000.