Growers Ramp up NSCARP Criticism,…

… call EIR Flawed, Clean Water Coalition calling for Rejection of EIR by Supes on May 12.

Frank Robertson Staff Writer

A group of Healdsburg winegrowers turned up their opposition this week against a Sonoma County Water Agency plan to supply vineyards with wastewater for irrigation in the Alexander and Dry Creek valleys.

Growers organized as the Clean Water Coalition of Northern Sonoma County say the North Sonoma County Agricultural Reuse Project (NSCARP) will cause them irreparable damage ranging from polluted groundwater to a tainted public image of high-end Sonoma County wines.

At a press conference held last week, coalition representatives said the “seriously flawed” NSCARP environmental impact report (EIR) that is scheduled to be certified on May 12 should instead be rejected for failing to deal with questions about ground water pollution, fish and wildlife habitat and economic impacts.

The Sonoma County Board of Supervisors is expected to certify the final report following a public hearing on May 12.

Growers say they support the concept of recycling clean wastewater for agricultural use but the quality of the NSCARP wastewater isn’t up to the task.

“At first I thought this was great. Recycling is great, green is great,” said Jason Passalacqua, a director of the Winegrowers of Dry Creek Valley and owner of Passalacqua Winery where the press conference took place. A closer look at NSCARP’s potential long-term effects on soil, water, and wine industry economics convinced him more work is needed to address local concerns, said Passalacqua.

“If they could give us clean water we’d take it,” said Passalacqua.

The coalition, an alliance of about 2,500 Alexander, Dry Creek and Russian River valley residents including growers and environmentalists, commissioned its own studies that contradict the Sonoma County Water Agency EIR that contends NSCARP will do no significant harm.

The coalition plans to submit its information to County Supervisors next week in preparation for the May 12 public hearing.

“All of this will be going to them as part of our comment submittal,” said Fred Corson, a Dry Creek grapegrower and past president of the Dry Creek Valley Association.

“We’re hand-delivering the whole package on May 5,” said Corson. “We want them to get a good look at this.” NSCARP would pipe treated wastewater from the City of Santa Rosa, the Town of Windsor and the Airport Larkfield Wikiup Sanitation Zone to agricultural users in the Russian River Valley including Dry Creek and Alexander Valley.

The project includes 17 reservoirs and more than 100 miles of pipeline to provide wastewater for irrigation and frost protection and reduce the use of well water and surface water diverted from the Russian River and its tributaries.

The project is proposed as a way to provide a reliable source of water for agriculture as well as stabilize Russian River native anadromous fish habitat. Unregulated agricultural pumping for frost protection was cited this month in a fish kill of Coho salmon in Felta Creek, a River tributary near Healdsburg.

Supporters of wastewater irrigation, including some of the area’s major grape growers such as Gallo and Clos du Bois, say it’s commonly done elsewhere and hasn’t harmed groundwater or tarnished the market for premium wines.

The Dry Creek Agricultural Water Users and the Coalition for Sustainable Agriculture have both expressed interest in irrigating with wastewater, according to the NSCARP report. Together those groups represent about 11,000 acres out of more than 21,000 acres in the proposed irrigation area.

But NSCARP critics, including Lou Preston of Preston Vineyards, say the wastewater, though pathogen-free, contains pharmaceuticals, metals and other substances sometimes called xenobiotics that are not presently removed in existing urban wastewater treatment methods.

The Clean Water Coalition, held two NSCARP community briefings last week, including one at Healdsburg City Hall on Friday, May 1, from 10:30 a.m. to noon. The briefing focused on NSCARP’s potential effects on tourism, the environment and the local economy.