SodaCanyonRoad | Water quality email to Yountville

Water quality email to Yountville

Bill Hocker | Sep 30, 2016 on: The Rector Watershed

[Letter from Amber Manfree, UC Research Biogeographer and Rector watershed resident to Nick Hickman, Yountville Water System Maintenance Staff]

From: Amber M
Date: Wed, Jul 27, 2016 at 3:55 PM
Subject: Rector Creek water quality

Hi Nick,

Thank you for taking my call on Monday regarding Rector Creek water quality. As I mentioned, I hiked a portion of the creek last Saturday and was dismayed to see more sediment than usual in both the mainstem and largest tributary to Rector Canyon.

Having been raised in the Foss Valley area, I have hiked the creek nearly every year for the past 20 years and am intimately familiar with conditions there. My first hike was in 1989, and my family has been making treks there since the 1950s.

I am attaching photos labeled with dates for comparison. The 2016 and 1998 photos show poor conditions while the other dates show what it looks like under better summer/fall conditions. Since vineyard conversion, there is always some fine sediment present. Before that, and in side channels with more intact watersheds, the water is crystal clear. My memories of the deeper pools from the early 1990s are of water like glass, where the bottom was clear, bright, and sediment-free at 12+ feet.

Compared to many systems, the sediment shown may not seem out of hand but it's the thickest coat of fine sediment I have ever seen in Rector, even exceeding the 1998 sediment load, which previously held the record in my observations (photos attached). Unlike 1998, sediment is heavy in two, not one, branches of the creek.

The Rector drainage now has about 1,500 acres of vineyard, essentially all converted from wildland over the past 25 years. As a resident, my observation is that the County does a poor job of ensuring compliance in this remote "out-of-sight, out-of-mind" valley, and the county planning department doesn't have a sense of the big picture, cumulative impacts that are happening.

I am writing primarily to alert you of this possible water quality concern related to sediment loads, of immediate interest to the City of Yountville. The status of much of Rector Canyon as a designated wildlife area is also a concern.

Based on my long-term observations, my sense is that the riparian system is at a tipping point - particularly because of the new and persistent presence of invasives, which indicate warmer and steadily lower-quality conditions. Invasive aquatic species including bullfrog, green sunfish, and largemouth bass have all made their first appearance in the Canyon proper in the past 6 years.

If the County keeps approving every proposal, the high quality habitat that still exists in Rector Creek will slip away. Rector Creek presently supports robust populations of rainbow trout and foothill yellow legged frog.

The most alarming proposal at this time is for a 100,000 gallon winery with 15,600+ tourists/year at "the mailboxes" on upper Soda Canyon. Most residents are concerned about noise and traffic that would be caused by the Mountain Peak project, but there will also be substantial impacts to Rector Creek if this project is approved. The winery would operate within 33,000 square feet of caves, and all of the material excavated will be placed just outside the required stream setback along two blueline creeks. The project managers literally bulldozed a road through one of the creekbeds already, so I am not eager to find out how they manage cave spoils.

Moreover, if this project goes through, it will set a precedent for the Rector watershed in terms of scale, scope, and marketing plan, and more of the same will likely follow.

The City of Napa recently weighed in on the Walt Ranch proposal in the Milliken drainage (attached PDF), and I hope the City of Yountville might consider doing the same for the Mountain Peak proposal.

Napa County's Mountain Peak project page is here.

I know this is a long email, so thank you for taking the time to consider this information.

As water managers, I strongly encourage you to see the entire length of the creek firsthand. If you ever would like to hike Rector Creek from the top down, please let me know; I am always happy to guide intrepid adventurers.