The world is in one hell of a mess and though it might seem so, it ain’t all Covid-19.
My son Paullen called the other evening to say that White House acting Covid-19 spokesperson, Jared Kushner, had personally told him that the wine grape frost fans can blow coronavirus bugs up to a mile and a half. Over the phone I could see on him that ear to ear Jerry Mabery grin. But he was serious when he said that on the way to work after passing Kevin Harvey’s Rhys Vineyard frost fans at 7 am, he ran a gauntlet of “thousands of sprinklers” all the way up to “Bob’s Knob”, the previous Corby Vineyard now owned by yet another wealthy Napa wine outfit. A conservative 80% of Anderson Valley wine grapes are owned by non-resident people wealthy beyond their need to make a living. They come here to grow their empires by exploiting “terroir” and water.
While the first bit of “news” was silly and fun the last was painful. Painful because in the face of near record low river flows I see the massive vineyard wanton use of water, when our ancient evolutionary ancestors in the form of steelhead trout so desperately need that sacred element to complete their procreative journeys up into the far reaches of the Navarro River watershed, as a gross crime against Nature. Steelhead are listed by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) as a “Threatened” species. That threat is of extinction and anything done to make their lives harder adds to that threat.
My son’s report was also like rubbing salt in a wound. I had just discovered that Goldeneye Winery had been pumping 24 hours a day for a solid week out of the Navarro River with a 15 horsepower pump, sucking through a 4” pipe. Several acre feet of water must have been confiscated in that very stretch of the upper Navarro River at the confluence of Anderson Creek and Rancheria Creek below which well over a hundred steelhead have been holed up for over five weeks waiting to be able to cross.
A couple weeks ago after seeing three bus loads of agricultural workers coming over Highway 253 from Ukiah I called the Mendocino Ag Commissioner to see if wine grapes were considered an “essential” business. I was assured that they were. After discovering the gruesome pump activity I visited Goldeneye’s website to be greeted by, “Goldeneye, The Pearly Gates of Anderson Valley Pinot Noir.” My Gosh! Goldeneye actually embraces (and therefore acknowledges?) that it is a place to go to when you die. I’ll tell the fish. Then I find on their “just releases” a new “2017 Goldeneye Anderson Valley Pinot Noir Confluence Vineyard” for $86 a bottle. So what is being established here is that an exorbitantly priced bottle of wine that probably won’t hit the shelves until 3 years down the road is “essential”. Sure, we can’t live without it - yet the steelhead might well not be able to live with it. But hey! Conserve water wash your car with wine. Sorry, just wanted to lighten things up.
And here’s another true experience that made me laugh when I saw it. Two weeks ago I’m standing on the bridge, watching on the down river side, the large gathering of steelhead I mentioned above when I noticed a stirring of water coming from under the bridge. I moved to the up river side to see emerge the absolutely fattest river otter I have ever seen. River otters, fairly common in the Navarro, are sleek and graceful creatures that bare much accusation by fishermen for eating too much of the River’s fish. This guy looked like the cartoon Porky Otter. He was not plump from a fresh dinner but overweight most likely from many dinners because those steelhead had been stuck in place for so long. Maybe I shouldn’t have laughed but I found it a humorous example of how Nature takes its course. In this case probably providing many multiple course repasts.
Many of the steelhead are getting white spots. At first just on their lower fins it seemed, I thought, that it might be from beating themselves up trying to cross extra shallow water but now it’s showing up on their backs so I don’t know – some kind of mange? Fishermen are telling me their getting weak from lack of food. It might be questionable that even if we do get enough rain this weekend to get them upstream that they will survive. I don’t know.
Sunday morning my bucket gauge here on Ray’s Rd. in Philo said we got an 1¼ inch of rain and the USGS river gauge was up to a little over 80 cfs (cu.ft. per sec.), up from 50 something cfs the days before. The river at the bridge was completely muddy, café latte opaque, so I couldn’t see if the fish were still there but the actual depth of the water didn’t appear to be much different. On examination Indian Creek and Rancheria Creek were both flowing almost clear making the whole River silted by Anderson Creek alone. Mind you that the CA Dept. of Fish and Wildlife cuts off fishing on all Mendocino County coastal streams when the Navarro gauge drops to 200 cfs because anything below that imposes a great challenge to spawning salmon and steelhead.
The house of Duckhorn in which Goldeneye is a family member is emblematic of a blindness and disregard so often held by the wealthy among us for anything or anybody that might stand in the way of their positive cash flow. And it is this same economic model that continues humanity’s march into the age of Climate Change and Species Extinction - on some levels in which Covid-19 is actually having some beneficial effects. I’m going to close this missive with the words of Gustave Speth a much credentialed environmental lawyer and scientist:
“I used to think the top environmental problems were biodiversity loss, ecosystem collapse and climate change. I thought that with 30 years of good science we could address those problems. But I was wrong. The top environmental problems are selfishness, greed and apathy - and to deal with those we need a spiritual and cultural transformation. We scientists don’t know how to do that.”
Monday morning addendum to the above story all of which still holds true:
Over night the Navarro gauge jumped to 285 cfs 5 cfs above the median point of 280. Hallelujah! Maybe there’s a chance yet for my friends. At times the gauge misbehaves so I rushed down to take a look. The River is definitely up and it would appear that all contributing streams are capable of receiving those big, up to 24 inch, steelies. While the water is still a bit murky, though now green, I was unable to see much deeper than a foot or so I can’t be positive but I do believe that after at least a month and a half wait those guys and gals are on their way. Mind you even before I returned the flow rate had started to rapidly drop and as I beg the editor for some tardiness on deadline the cfs has already fallen below the 280 cfs median level and continues to be well below the average for April 6 of 634 cfs. I’ll bet by Monday night the River flow rate will have again dropped below the 200 cfs threshold established by Fish & Wildlife and will continue to drop back to near record level flow rates. After all we continue to live with drought conditions.