Tuesday, October 4, 2016

Rare baby steelhead susceptible to vineyard development

A recent study commissioned by Forests Unlimited surprisingly discovered infant rainbow trout and other vital wildlife in Napa's Conn Creek, downstream of yet another proposed new vineyard. This one's being challenged by environmentalists.  (Excerpts and photos below from the report by Patrick Higgins.)

    Historic accounts (Ott 1945, Cox 1979, Leidy et al. 2005) indicate that Conn Creek was meeting cold water beneficial uses from its headwaters downstream to the Napa River, but today it is dry in reaches above Angwin, stagnant and warm in town and only attains cold water ecosystem functionality below Howell Mountain Road. The reason that Conn Creek adjacent to the project has maintained flow and resident trout is because the underlying volcanic terrain and Cold Springs that gives rise to year around very cold water flows that would now be extracted for watering the Le Colline Vineyard. 
    The City of Napa relies on Lake Hennessey that is downstream on Conn Creek and it is concerned about impacts to water quality there from developments such as the one proposed. Allowing wildland hydrology to be disrupted without limit will eventually cause the reservoir to reach a tipping point and to develop noxious or even toxic algae blooms. Cold water coming into the reservoir year around would tend to moderate algae blooms and could promote stratification so that rainbow trout could survive at depths during summer. The Lake Hennessey turbidity data provided in the DEIR actually shows an increase in summer turbidity during recent drought years that may be indicative of increased phytoplankton and the onset of eutrophication. 
    The proponent of the project (DiCesaris 2016) states that “agriculture is the highest and best use of Napa County land.” Some wild lands need to be left undisturbed in order for society to have access to clean water, which is more essential than wine. Also, leaving some areas for the animals to live is also a key tenet of good stewardship and has practical value to humans. If we destroy the ecosystem on which the animals rely, we lose “ecosystem services” such as bats controlling insects that can attack our crops and be vectors for diseases; and foxes, coyotes, and raptors controlling rodents and keep them reaching plague proportions. 
    Urban and suburban development, proliferation of vineyards and other nearby development have pushed Conn Creek to near its tipping point and local wildlife populations are being impacted by habitat loss that could lead to loss of species diversity. The connectivity of the Le Colline project area to the Linda Falls Preserve, the properties unique geologic features, and its diverse wildlife make it much more appropriate for a conservation easement than vineyard development in keeping with the Napa County General Plan.                                             

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