SodaCanyonRoad | Deforestation leader: Cal Fire or County?

Deforestation leader: Cal Fire or County?

Bill Hocker | Mar 9, 2017 on: Watershed Issues

Napa County generates the most Timber Harvest Plans in the State!

NVR 3/8/17: Cal Fire shifts timber harvest permits to Napa County

At the BOS on Mar 7th 2017 (item 9A here) the Board considered a request by the California Department of Forestry (Cal Fire) that the County should become the lead agency on deforestation projects within the county that involved Timber Harvest Plans (THP's). The staff letter on the issue is here. Normally in projects that involve THP's (i.e where there is harvesting of timber species in preparation for agricultural or development clearing) Cal Fire acts as the lead agency for CEQA review and the county chimes in on conservation regulations where appropriate. But as the Cal Fire administrator indicated at the hearing, Napa County ECP and CEQA review has become so much more thorough that they feel it is better for the County to be the lead agency with Cal Fire providing their own input to the county. Their concerns were first aired in this letter concerning 4 projects they currently reviewing. Two of the projects are well along in their Cal Fire review and two of the projects are only at the Notice of Preparation (NOP) stage. Apparently after a meeting between Cal Fire and the County it was decided that Cal Fire would retain lead agency status on all 4 projects as indicated in this letter two months later. As of this date, however, 2 of the projects have been turned over to Napa County for CEQA review.

Given the punishing process on Walt Ranch, given the fact that Cal Fire doesn't seem to charge for CEQA reviews?!! and given the much more opaque process that Cal Fire uses, I can understand why developers would be anxious to avoid having the county as the lead agency, and assigning lead agency to Cal Fire might be seen as a way to lessen the scrutiny that deforestation projects might otherwise receive, essentially an end run around the more robust concerns that the county and its citizens have concerning these projects.

Sup Wagenknecht asked the Cal Fire administrator if the proposed arrangement was unusual. This would be the first such arrangement, she indicated. In addition to the greater thoroughness of the County ECP process, she said, Napa has the most timber conversions anywhere in the State, a remarkable statement but understandable when looking at the many patches of converted timberland on Google Map images of the watersheds (see photo).

The Supervisors passed a motion to make the County lead agency on future development conversion projects that involve THP's, and to request, at Sup Dillon's insistence, that Cal Fire make the county lead agency on the 2 "NOP" projects currently under review.

Chris Malan - Mar 9, 2017 10:55AM

We know now that the County planning staff are hearing us (italicized and copied from the BOS agenda letter here):

There have been two recent items of note regarding the ECPA review process.

On January 20, 2017, staff sent a notice to stakeholders and interested parties indicating that PBES would no longer accept hydrologic analyses and vineyard ECPAs designed in reliance on modified hydrologic soil group (HSG) assumptions. The HSG methodology is no longer recommended by either the Resource Conservation District or the Regional Water Quality Control Board, and is not supported by Department engineering staff. We are working with those applicants who have not yet transitioned to the preferred approach.

(LRC debunked the Walt project soil analysis claims that after grading the soils are more permeable therefore, groundwater has a high recharge value with vineyard development-an utter false assumption. I wonder what this will do for our litigation)

Recently, CalFire held a training exercise on private property in the Soda Canyon area. It generated complaints from nearby residents who were concerned that illegal brush clearing and/or grading was occurring. Section 18.108.050.(H) of the County Code exempts the creation and/or maintenance of firebreaks required by, and completed under the direction of the California Department of Forestry. However, the exemption does not specifically address fire training exercises. Similarly, work to create fuel breaks (not fire breaks) is being proposed by Napa Firewise. Staff is working closely with both Firewise and CalFire to ensure that necessary fire prevention work is allowed to move forward, in a way that does not impact the environment or create violations of County Code.

(so we know now that the grading on Soda Springs road was actually NOT Allowed and NOT specifically exempt!)

Chris Malan - Mar 9, 2017 10:12AM

At the Napa County BOS [see list of acronyms at end] yesterday they voted to approve two changes in regards to the approval of erosion control plans for the conversion of lands to vines.

1. ECPA CEQA process for THP/TCP is now going to be done through Napa County. This is good for us for several reasons:

  • costs go up for the applicants because the County charges and the state didn't for CEQA admin on THP/TCP

  • we have local access to the complete THP/TCP file (before we had to travel to Santa Rosa to see the complete THP file and Sacramento for the TCP)

  • the THP/TCP goes through CEQA and the ECPA also-so there are technically two opportunities to comment-the BOS want a "road map" of the approval process-therefore, we will see where all the opportunities are for public hearings

2. The PBES is now taking over the ECPA process from the RCD who was NOT qualified to oversee these engineering plans . This is good news on several fronts because:

  • The RCD along with the vineyard consultants developing the ECPAs can no long 'play games' with modeling the hydrologic soil groups (HSG) post deep ripping and deforestation. They have been claiming that deep ripping (after deforestation) improves soil infiltration of water thereby improving groundwater recharge, decreasing runoff and erosion post project.

  • the San Francisco Regional Water Quality Control Board (SFRWQCB) met with LRC and our consultant on 12.2016 to understand the failings of the ECPA modeling so as to properly implement the WDR for vineyards in Sonoma and Napa Counties to comply with the 303(d) listing of the Napa and Sonoma River for sediment pollution (first ever DWR for vineyards in the State).

    LRC has been communicating with the SFRWQCB since 2000 along with filing a CEQA lawsuit on the Sediment TMDL and inadequacies of the ECPs not meeting water quality parameters to support salmonids.

    The CEQA process for the draft WDR finally gave a window of opportunity to collaborate with the SFRWQCB developing a WDR that adequately deals with the failings of the ECPAs and properly implementing the Sediment TMDL.

    The SFRWQCB staff asked for a meeting with LRC and our hydrologist for information about how to deal with the ECPA failings in the WDR. We met and discussed the 'games' being played by the RCD and applicants consultants on manipulation of HSGs post ripping and deforestation producing false information about runoff, infiltration and erosion.

    LRC declared these scientific truths with the SFRWQCB that: 1.) water infiltration may increase slightly after ripping but then the soil compacts and the pores close and water sheets off. 2.) because of #1 there is increased rate of runoff in some soil types that has not been mitigated for in the past (WALT Ranch vineyard project in litigation now) because the RCD and consultants had a theory that the water infiltration increased post ripping through the newly ripped loose soil. This is now completely debunked by the LRC consultant along with the NRCD who confirmed our consultant is correct. The SFRWQCB agreed too!

    So successful is LRC on this through past litigation and open communication with SFRWQCB during the WDR comment period that a workshop is being held on March 18th and outreach is happening with the vineyard consultants that they can NO longer make these false claims to get a pass on CEQA that the project impacts on hydrology and sediment discharge are less than significant! Because the SFRWQCB agrees with LRC the WDR requirements for hydrology and sediment must be properly modeled!

    Finally yesterday the County of Napa's PBES department engineer testified to the BOS that vineyard projects that do deep ripping (often preceded by deforestation) can no longer apply their false theory and manipulate HSG modeling to get a pass on rate of runoff, erosion and recharge.

Living Rivers Council has worked on this for over 17 years and finally there are changes coming through the SFRWQCB telling the Counties that their erosion control plans must have robust engineering/modelling that shows scientific evidence of deep ripping and deforestation impacts on soil types. This is a much higher CEQA bar now for these projects. The SFRWQCB is collaborating this with the NCRWQCB for the implementation of their WDR in Sonoma County and beyond!

FYI-with this the WDR will be rolled out soon and the BMPs for vineyards will be such that the ECPA must demonstrate no increased rate of runoff-this will limit the amount of deforestation in certain soil types.

Cal Fire told the BOS that Napa County has the most TCP�s in the STATE! We need to really use this in our Initiative language, PR and fundraising. This means that Napa really needs initiative protection.

Chris Malan

Hydrologic Soil Groups (HSG)
Timber Harvest Plan (THP)
Timber Conversion (TCP)
Wastewater Discharge Requirement permit (WDR)
San Francisco Regional Water Quality Control Board (SFRWQCB)
North Coast Regional Water Quality Control Board (NCRWQCB)
Resource Conservation District (RCD)
National Resource Conservation District (NRCD)
Living Rivers Council (LRC)
Best Management Practices (BMP)
Erosion Control Plan Application (ECPA)
California Environmental Quality Act (CEQA)
Board of Supervisors (BOS)
Planning Building and Environmental Services (PBES): Napa County department where ECPAs are processed
Total Maximum Daily Load (TMDL)
California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection (Cal Fire)