Time's Up: To protect local water supplies, Napa County voters must approve Measure C



Letter to the Editor - Napa Valley Register, by Measure C proponents Mike Hackett and Jim Wilson



The Napa Valley Register’s recent editorial had a lot of good things to say about Measure C, and for good reason ("The measures on the June Ballot," April 29). Napa County’s water security is in jeopardy and protecting our oak woodlands would go a long way toward improving the situation.

As stated in the editorial, it’s time to “take a hard look at the current regulations protecting the streams and trees in the hills surrounding the valley.” The facts are clear that, “Those forests and streams feed the Napa River and recharge the reservoirs and aquifers that supply the cities and vineyards on the Valley floor. Those trees are not just scenic treasures, but also a line of defense against the looming menace of climate change.”

We agree that we must act proactively to protect Napa County’s water supply, just as we protected the land best suited to farming by establishing the Ag Preserve in 1968. As the editorial noted, “we should not wait until there is a tree-clearing gold rush in our back country, or until our aquifers begin to fail, before protecting the national treasure that is Napa County.”

Where we part ways with the newspaper is in its faith that our Board of Supervisors will improve protections for our watershed lands. Experience proves that the only way to increase protections of our watershed lands is through a citizens’ initiative.

Everyone in the county has known that this initiative was coming for at least three years. We first gathered signatures to place a very similar measure on the 2016 ballot. After signatures were gathered, county counsel identified a legal procedural flaw at the 11th hour, forcing our team to collect a new set of signatures to qualify for the current ballot. That means proponents successfully collected more than 6,000 signatures twice in support of this measure in the past few years.

Once signatures were gathered, the Board of Supervisors had a chance to adopt the measure outright. But did they choose to do so? No. Because the corporate wine industry enjoys an outsized influence over our elected officials.

People who have been tracking the journey of Measure C know, that after we failed to get this initiative onto the 2016 ballot, we worked with leaders from the Napa Valley Vintners to develop the initiative that is now before you. (The NVV has since caved to pressure from some of its largest members, many of which are large corporations without local roots.)

NVV’s leaders knew Measure C was coming. Rather than wait and see what it would include, they actively collaborated to shape the details of the measure. That 795-acre cap for oak woodland clearing in the Ag Watershed for agricultural purposes? NVV suggested that number as a reasonable compromise.

NVV was so involved in drafting this measure, they paid for more than half of the legal bills associated with putting it together. Their leaders had private meetings with every supervisor and our team to introduce the new initiative and ask for support from each of them.

In private, we had firm commitments from at least three of the supervisors that they would support Measure C. All of them made clear that they were supportive because wine industry leaders provided the cover they needed. It was a natural: super-influential wine industry group representing over 500 vintners, aligned in a compromise agreement to save our water supply and oak woodlands into the future. One supervisor even signaled the board would likely adopt the measure outright once signatures were collected and suggested the county have a party to celebrate its adoption in conjunction with 50th anniversary celebrations for the Ag Preserve.

We remember these details clearly because we took detailed contemporaneous notes at and after all of these meetings.

When the major wine industry groups later opted to oppose the initiative, our elected officials lost their nerve. They realized they would have to risk alienating major campaign contributors by taking a stand that might upset a handful of extremely rich and powerful wine industry interests. Rather than take that risk, they caved.

So, Napa County voters should understand why we’re not going to wait and see if our elected officials will take the urgent action needed to protect Napa County’s water supplies. We already know they won’t.

Climate change is not waiting for the supervisors to wake up to the reality of what another harsh and extended drought would mean for our water supplies. Farmers – including grapegrowers – are not waiting for the new regulations to cut down oaks as quickly as possible from our Ag Watershed.

To borrow a phrase from another urgent movement of our era, Time’s Up: The time to protect local water supplies is now, and the citizens can make it happen. Yes on C.

Mike Hackett and Jim Wilson

Proponents of Measure C