Napa River and Sonoma Creek Vineyard General Permit

by Dickenson Peatman & Fogarty P.C.
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[co-author: Louise Mercier, Law Clerk]

In July 2017, the San Francisco Bay Regional Water Quality Control Board adopted waste discharge requirements (a “General Permit”) to regulate vineyards parcels of 5 acres or more in the Napa River and Sonoma Creek watersheds to monitor vineyard sediment, pesticide and nutrient discharges.

General enrollment is due by July 31, 2018. The Regional board extended the enrollment period to July 31, 2019 for vineyards impacted by the October 2017 North Bay wildfires. The Regional Water Board’s active map enables growers to locate their property, determine whether they are subject to the General Permit, and determine the applicable deadline.

General Permit applicants are required to comply with the Performance Standards of Discharge, which define the level of pollutant discharge control. Vineyard parcels with average slope equal to or exceeding 5 percent are subject to additional performance control standards. Standards and Best Managements Practices are summarized here.

The Farm Plan Requirement

Existing vineyards are required to complete a verified farm plan by July 31, 2020. For existing vineyards located within the perimeter of the North Bay wildfires, the deadline is extended to July 31, 2021.

For new vineyards planted subsequent to General Permit adoption, the verified farm plan must be completed either by July 31, 2020 or by the date the vineyard is planted, whichever is later.  The farm plan certifies that all performance standards for sediment and storm runoff control will be complied with.

Approved Third-Party Programs and Their Role

The Regional Water Board approved four Third-Party programs that can assist growers to draft and verify their farm plans, ensure compliance with the General Permit and file the farm plan: the California Land and Stewardship Institute’s Fish Friendly Farming Program, the Napa County Resource Conservation District’s Landsmart Program, the Sonoma Resource Conservation District’s Landsmart Program and the California Sustainable Wine growing Alliance.

Growers electing to develop a farm plan independently without Third Party Program verification must submit their farm plans to the Regional Board for review and approval.

Permit and Reporting Processes

The General Permit provides three tiers of reporting and fees. Tier 1 enrollees who have a verified farm plan and meet all applicable discharge and the stream and riparian habitat standards benefit from reduced monitoring and reporting, and lower permit fees. Tier 2 enrollees are growers who are working with a Third-Party Program to develop a verified farm plan but that have not met all applicable performance standards benefit from reduced permit fees. Growers developing a farm plan independent of Third Party Program verification are Tier 3.  Tier 2 and 3 enrollees must submit an annual compliance form. They will also generally be required to complete additional water quality monitoring to asses streambed sediment conditions as well as compliance with BMPs.

What Can I Do Now?

The enrollment period opened on April 30, 2018. Prior to filing their verified farm plan and permit application, Growers must first file a Notice of Intent to comply with the General Permit. Growers The Regional Board has published instructions for completing and submitting the Notice of Intent online.

The Regional Board will hold an informational meeting on Tuesday, May 29, from 1:00 to 2:30 at the Yountville Community Center, located 6516 Washington Street in Yountville, California to provide additional filing and practical information regarding the General Permit process.

DISCLAIMER: Because of the generality of this update, the information provided herein may not be applicable in all situations and should not be acted upon without specific legal advice based on particular situations.

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