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Water Vs. Wine: Napa County Supes Pass Watershed Protection Regulations

NAPA (KPIX 5) -- Napa County supervisors unanimously voted to pass watershed protection regulations following an all-day debate on Tuesday.

The all-day hearing was to debate the proposed set of environmental rules, which both sides argued could stop the growth of the wine industry in the region.

The struggle is between those who consider wine the life's blood of the region and those who think the industry is bleeding the area dry.

The Supervisors Chambers and a number or overflow rooms were jammed with people wanting to comment on proposed rules that advocates say would protect trees and the hillside watershed. They say the environment is being damaged by the expansion of vineyards and home development.

"The hills are starting to erode, our water is becoming turgid, sedimentation is flowing into our reservoirs," said Silverado Trail grape grower Yeoryios Apallas.

The mayor of St. Helena, Geoff Ellsworth, told supervisors, "It's been understood since the beginning of time that those living upstream on a flow of water have a responsibility to those living below."

On parcels of an acre or more, the new regulations would prohibit any development next to streams or on land with at least a 30 percent slope. They would limit the number of trees that could be removed and require open space be set aside to compensate for those that are.

Supporters say it would protect the watershed and stop the expansion of wineries into the hills above the valley.

"We can set a shining star for the world to see that it can be done and needs to be done," said Mike Hackett, who helped spearhead the regulations.

But opponents say the proposed ordinance is a blatant example of "NIMBY"-ism.

"They've chosen to live in agricultural areas and now that they're here, they don't want to have agriculture near them," said Tom Davies, president of V. Sattui Winery.

"People are using the environment as a tool to try and get what they want, which is really to be against the wine industry," said county resident Steve Rea.

Karen Crouse grows grapes in the Westside hills and says passage of the rules will cut the value of her 80 acre property in half.

"The estimation I've seen most recently is 60-70 percent that we would actually have absolutely no control over," Crouse said.

So why is this being considered now? Last year, Measure C, a citizen-sponsored initiative with similar regulations, was defeated by only 600 votes, and backers have threatened another ballot measure if the county doesn't adopt the new watershed rules.

Some believe the supervisors are supporting the regulations to prevent another initiative which, if successful, they would have no power to change or repeal.

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