SodaCanyonRoad | Watershed protection not the only issue

Watershed protection not the only issue
Bill Hocker | Feb 18, 2022 on: Watershed Issues

Scott Sedgley et al LTE 2/16/22: Protect our local watershed

It is significant that civic leaders in each of the municipalities have penned an editorial asking the county to stop development in the county watersheds, an underlying recognition, in an era of drought, that water used for agriculture there will impact their municipal water supplies. (The timing of the editorial may also relate to a growing sense that development in the unincorporated county may not be entirely uninfluenced by the financial interests of county politicians). Of course I agree with the need to stop development in the watersheds. It is the genesis of this website. But, while touched upon in the editorial, more attention should be brought the cities' own culpability for the water problems they face.

Napa municipalities, like the rural county, have been on a growth binge for the last 2 decades. It has largely centered around tourism, an industry with a bad water footprint. In Napa City, street life has become a tourist-centric shopping mall. A vast number of hotel projects and one vineyard-consuming resort in the works will move it even further toward a 24-hour tourist attraction and the complete death of an authentic small town community. In Calistoga, resort projects are proposed and being built, clearing forests and paving vineyards, in a never ending quest to cajole tourists up through the traffic jams in American Canyon and St. Helena. Yountville has become a potemkin village devoted entirely to tourism uses. Only St. Helena, at the epicenter of the tourism kill zone in the valley, has gamely fought to retain its authentic small town character. But there is only so much that can be done to slow the community decimation wrought by Airbnb, and the increased profitability of tourist-serving businesses. American Canyon has become, as intended, the suburban bedroom community to supply the workforce needed for the economic growth in the rest of the county, paving over wetlands and vineyards in the process. But it has not been enough, and housing projects are springing up all over Napa City in a nominal and futile attempt to reduce commuter traffic. (Napa Pipe will generate more new workers needing housing than the 180 affordable units, the nominal purpose of the project's creation, can supply.)

Also, since Bill Dodd's successful effort to widen Jameson Canyon, "growth" has also meant the conversion of the county's southern wetlands into warehouse subdivisions in both the unincorporated airport area and in American Canyon. Those workers, and the wineries that take up residence in the warehouses, are also adding to the water woes in the county and their traffic adding to the climate crisis.

I commend municipal officials who see vineyard, vineyard estate and winery development in the watersheds as a threat to the holistic and sustainable entity of Napa County as a rural, agricultural, small town enclave in the greater Bay Area. But if their solution does not also include a similar moritorium on the current development trajectory in the municipalities, then no amount of water conservation or other mitigation will solve the problem of living in an ever drying world. Only with a strong effort to curtail development in the watersheds and in the municipalities, and to formally abandon the "fairytales of eternal economic growth", will we be able to counter the perils of a changing climate.