Water Rights

Water Rights

Snowflakes, leaves, humans, plants, raindrops, stars, molecules, microscopic entities all come in communities. The singular cannot in reality exist.

Paula Gunn Allen

This quote arrived in my e-mail box this week from Gratefulness.org, and it could not be at a more appropriate time. We spent three and a half hours yesterday morning at a Napa County Board of Supervisor’s hearing on water rights. A new winery and vineyard next to our property was permitted and now their neighbor’s residential natural springs have gone dry, evidently for the first time in the approximate 170 years their family has lived on the property.

We knew the previous owner. He did not plant vineyards but ran cattle. He had an old rancher attitude, keeping his meadows free of encroaching forest by girding oaks, a practice which quite frankly horrified me. But he was generous with his time. Once he drove me all over his meadows in his pickup truck when I lost two goats.

When he died some years ago, the land was divided and some family members sold their share to people who, of course, wanted to build vineyards as well as an event winery. Here is where the trouble began, at least the trouble that took them to the Board of Supervisor’s hearing. The short of it is that two of three springs have gone dry, and the third has toxic levels of boron and arsenic. The family still living on their piece of the property is now without water, and the winery wants to expand. Planning gave them a permit to do so. In California, domestic use comes before irrigation use. Will our Board of Supervisors honor this and reverse the decision?

But a much more serious issue was addressed by a man who had helped create the General Plan for Napa County 40 years ago: the incursion of vineyards and wineries into the mountain forests— and watersheds. If we degrade our watersheds, we degrade our water supplies, our agriculture, ourselves. Watersheds are gold, and need to be protected and maintained. The truth is, trees and forests need to be top of the list of priorities, above domestic use. Water and small citizen groups are gaining momentum in bringing this issue to the forefront. We farmers need to think carefully about the water on our farms and ranches, doing everything we can do to maintain the watershed that connects us all. “The singular cannot in reality exist.” Perhaps one day California Water Code 106 will state: It is hereby declared to be the established policy of this state that the maintenance of the watersheds is the highest use of water, and the next highest use is for domestic use, followed by irrigation. (It currently reads: It is herby declared to be the established policy of this state that the use of water for domestic purposes is highest use of water and that the next highest use is for irrigation.)