Comments to the Planning Commission, January 7, 2015

Comments to the Planning Commission, January 7, 2015

To the uneducated eye, it may look like a good place for vines. But in fact, it is a vital part of an oak savanna and watershed. Yesterday a number of our neighbors went before the Napa Valley Planning Commission to voice our concerns about the incursion of a commercial enterprise into our neighborhood and hillside. We are at a critical juncture in the Napa Valley. It has never been more important to become educated as to what supports the ecological health of our Valley, including the importance of watersheds in restoring ground water. We are particularly fortunate to have Director of Planning, Building, and Environmental Services, David Morrison, calling for public input and discussion around land use issues over this next year. The first meeting will be the afternoon of Tuesday, March 10. These are my comments:

My husband and I are a certified Biodynamic organic ranch growing grapes, lavender and other aromatics, and some fruit. Most of our ranch is forested and rugged. We share a property line with our neighbors which has a tree easement protecting a portion of one of the few remaining oak savannas in our Napa Valley. This consists not only of huge old Valley Oaks but native grasses and plants and many animals.

There are so many issues to address and I will be back. But today I want to voice my sincere wish that as we all move forward in 2015, that our county government in its many facets will work with citizen groups, several which have worked long and hard, some which are just now forming, to develop guidelines that protect the agricultural preserve but also the watersheds.

Watersheds are like mothers. When mothers are healthy and functioning properly, the children flourish. The mother for the most part is invisible, taken for granted. That was always my wish as mother: that my sons could take me for granted! But when the mother is sick or depleted, she’s noticed. The children suffer.

In the case of watersheds, if we ignore the importance of our watersheds, if we don’t maintain the conditions that provide healthy watersheds, and restore those which have been depleted, our water is at risk. Water is our lifeblood. It is what unites us. It is the commons, belonging to no one person, but to all of us.

In my husband’s and my situation, if we look at that oak savanna and see open space for vines, if wells are drilled, and several wells, because they’re not great wells, if those wells suck up water for vines or wineries, water those Valley Oaks also need for survival, we are depleting a watershed. And believe me, in this drought, our trees are suffering. Way too many are dying or are sick, stressed by lack of water. Will these wells deplete the ground water that sustains these ancient Valley Oaks? The death of so many trees ups the fire danger to critical levels.

Oak savannas and woodlands and all the plants and animals that are part of those communities are a vital part of our watersheds. Native Americans managed these forests and watersheds for centuries, but that knowledge is mostly lost. The watersheds need study and protection and, in many cases, restoration, certainly not further exploitation for farming. In an Ag Preserve or Watershed, some things should be protected, and if they are not, we will all suffer the consequences. Water unites us, water reminds us that we are of one piece. Fire will do this too.