SodaCanyonRoad | Napa River is not a sewer
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Napa River is not a sewer


Chris Malan | Nov 30, 2015 on: Napa Vision 2050

Napa County has a problem with growth that is severely harming the environment and consequently, our health, safety and welfare. Politicians should not approve development projects that at build-out will degrade our fresh water resources and fail to comply with our environmental laws.

Between Jan. 19, 2014, and Feb. 7, 2015, the city of St. Helena failed to properly manage and maintain its wastewater treatment plant so that 5.035 million gallons of partially treated wastewater surged from a torn holding pond, contaminating groundwater and nearby wells. The state recently issued a $290,177 settlement penalty (reduced from $498,465) because of harm to the environment. Since then, the San Francisco Bay Regional Water Quality Control Board is considering orders that will direct the city of St. Helena to upgrade its wastewater treatment plant to meet new requirements or face more penalties and civil liabilities.

From 2014 and 2015, the city of Calistoga’s Dunaweal wastewater treatment plant released to the adjacent Napa River, elevated levels of pollutants in violation of their National Pollution Discharge Elimination Systems permit, NPDES. A recent Conditional Waiver issued by the water quality control board, with a reduced settlement for mandatory minimum penalties, was recently signed by the city in the amount of $12,000.

In addition, Calistoga’s wastewater treatment plant utilizes effluent storage ponds adjacent to the Napa River that have been percolating into the river for many years. The infrastructure of this problematic facility, which has operated under a cease-and-desist order for the past year, has not been able to handle the sewage load of its current population and has necessitated emergency discharges into the river when flows are low; yet, the city of Calistoga has approved extensive new resorts/housing developments despite public protests.

The Napa River is not a sewer! The Napa River is home to a unique assemblage of fish that need protection as more species slip into extirpation. The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency listed the Napa River as impaired (polluted) in 1988 due to pathogens, nutrients and sediment.

Invasive plant growth and algae are plaguing our waterways due to bio-stimulatory contaminates such as phosphate. During rain events these contaminants mobilize and flow to the receiving waters of the state. When this contaminated water is held in our municipal reservoirs and subject to warm days and sunlight, algae grows and multiplies exponentially.

Some of the many species of algae are harmful to human consumption and can form lethal toxins. Unfortunately, the current acceptable treatment for algae is bleach; however, chlorine has harmful byproducts that cannot exceed allowable limits in potable water. Both Napa and Calistoga cities used too much bleach in 2015 to treat municipal water from our reservoirs, hence the public had to drink contaminated water from bleach byproducts known as tri-halomethanes, which are carcinogenic.

In the meantime, no new wineries, hotel and spa facilities, housing nor vineyards should be considered or constructed (if previously approved) that will cause further stress to the communities’ sewer capabilities and water treatment facilities.

Our cities alone cannot assure that freshwater supplies remain potable.

The county shares the burden to collaborate with them to establish clean water policies and protective watershed zoning. Most of Napa County is agricultural watershed zoning, which allows for deforestation by vineyard development. Currently, there is a timber harvest and conversion to wine grapes planned for Bell Creek municipal watershed that will directly impact water quality for Bell Canyon Municipal Reservoir. In the Milliken municipal watershed the county approved or is approving clear-cutting of over 30,000 oaks. These lands are subject to high intensity pollution from industrial chemicals and pesticides used in the production of wine grapes.

However, this industry is not alone in polluting our streams, rivers and aquifers. Cattle continue to graze throughout our watersheds in and close to streams.

As residents, we also share in the responsibility to manage our homes such that chemicals don’t mobilize to the streams, rivers and ocean. Recent studies show that glyphosate, a byproduct of industrial chemicals such as Roundup is carcinogenic. This, too, is making its way into our food and water supply.

Our watershed continues to be grazed by cattle and deforested for grapevines. These activities in watersheds not only destroy wildlife habitat but spoil our potable water where our forests purify our water source and restore our aquifers. Additionally, we know that forests are excellent for storing and sequestration of carbon to help prevent climate change. Every one of us has a responsibility to protect our watersheds, which we rely upon for water in order to live, recreate, fish and swim.

All of this needs attention and change by all.

Come to the Monday, Nov. 30, Growth Forum, 7 p.m. at the Napa County Library, for a community discussion on these and other topics.

NVR version 11/30/15: Napa river is not a sewer