Who Hijacked Our Country

Saturday, January 30, 2010

Wine Industry’s Profits Threatened by Fish Protection

Grape growers are the 800-pound gorilla of Napa and Sonoma Counties in northern California. Just as large corporations have a scrotal grip on Congress, local legislators and supervisors in Napa/Sonoma Counties have their nutsacks in the iron grip of the wine industry.

What the wine industry wants, it gets. Period.

If you have a well that just went dry because a local vineyard sucked up all the water, tough shit.

If certain non-native insect pests are found in the area, everything for miles around will be sprayed with pesticides. Don’t want your house, yard, family members and pets to be coated with poison? Tough. What’re you gonna do about it?

And now the latest target in the grape growers’ crosshairs — those F$#!%&$# fish in the local rivers and the meddling bureaucrats who insist on protecting them.

In order to protect the endangered Coho Salmon and Steelhead Trout, a regulation has been proposed which would limit the amount of water that vineyards can pump out of the local rivers. If this law is approved, vineyard owners will need approval from the State Water Board before they can pump water from the Russian River and other local rivers.

I don’t know anything about the State Water Board, but I sure hope they’re less of a fox-guarding-the-henhouse than some of the local water agencies. In Sonoma County — where I lived until 2004 — the Board of Supervisors and the county water agency are the exact same people. Not overlapping — the same. Identical.

The five county supervisors stand up, turn around, put a different hat on, turn around again and — Presto! — Hi, we’re the water agency.

And this agency just loves to sell jillions of acre feet of Russian River water to neighboring Marin County, while knowing full well that the flow into the Russian River, from the Eel River, has been reduced. Connect the God Damn Dots!

Anyway, let’s hope federal and state regulators and the State Water Board will start protecting endangered fish. 2011 is the earliest this law could take effect.

In Sonoma County, thousands of orchards and crop fields have been plowed up and replaced by vineyards. Consequently the local wine industry is “too big to fail.” Let ‘em fail, if that’s what it takes to save wildlife.

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Blogger Distributorcap said...

agreed - such short term thinking is rampant in this country - once the wildlife is gone - it is only a matter of time before.....

January 30, 2010 at 4:18 PM  
Blogger jadedj said...

Jesus, this sounds like the sugar barons of South Florida who have pretty much destroyed the Everglades.

I will say, I am giving up my California wines after reading this shit.

January 30, 2010 at 4:45 PM  
Blogger Tom Harper said...

Distributorcap: That's exactly the kind of short term thinking that will wreck everything in the long run.

jadedj: Wine has always been my least favorite alcoholic drink anyway. When I lived in California I got sick to death of all these trendy wine tasters, taking a sip of wine and then spending ten minutes swooning over it and coming up with more boring metaphors than you could imagine. But even if I liked wine, I wouldn't want to contribute to the grape barons' destruction of California.

January 30, 2010 at 5:45 PM  
Blogger jadedj said...

I'm with you Tom. Agra business USA is rampant and I resist everywhere I can. I buy locally, if possibly, and when I hear things such as this post, I cut their shit out of my life. A small thing I realize, but if enough of us do this, the bastards WILL sufffer.

January 30, 2010 at 6:04 PM  
Blogger Tom Harper said...

jadedj: That's a good approach. That's all any of us can do. Buy locally when possible, and in general put our money towards those businesses and industries whose values we share.

January 30, 2010 at 7:21 PM  
Blogger Lew Scannon said...

After reading most of the Howard Zinn site which you generously provided in your previous post, I don't hold out much hope for any government doing what's right for everybody over what monied special interests want.

January 30, 2010 at 8:12 PM  
Anonymous Carlos said...

I'm with you - let 'em fail. I love California wine, but not so much that I'll fucking die without it. There are plenty of others.

January 31, 2010 at 4:36 AM  
Blogger Beekeepers Apprentice said...

I say screw the vineyards, I don't even drink wine, can't stand the stuff. I do eat fish, though.

January 31, 2010 at 6:05 AM  
Blogger Tom Harper said...

Lew: In a way, Zinn's book confirms what I've thought for a long time -- things aren't getting worse. We've always been an oligarchy; it's just become more obvious in recent years.

Carlos: Yup, let 'em fail if it comes to that. I don't like wine anyway, but even if I did, grape growers aren't the center of the universe.

Bee: Damn right, the fish are more important any day (for eating and for the ecosystem).

January 31, 2010 at 9:16 AM  
Anonymous Thomas said...

At the very least the wine industry produces a product that I would want to consume.

Here in Georgia the entire state government is in thrall to the road building lobby. This is particularly true in Atlanta, as if Atlanta, already a city with 14 lane highways, needed more road building.

January 31, 2010 at 11:00 AM  
Blogger Tom Harper said...

Thomas: I've heard that about Atlanta. About 20 years ago somebody was telling me how fast Atlanta was growing; that if you leave and come back a few months later there are miles of new strip malls and new subdivisions that weren't there before. I guess the growth and sprawl haven't slowed down.

January 31, 2010 at 11:31 AM  
Blogger Holte Ender said...

If the rivers and lakes have to be sucked dry to grow ANY crop it's a bad deal. If an area has little rainfall, it's nature's way of saying "don't grow water needy crops here." The fight for water in California and some the mountain and desert states, has only just begun.

January 31, 2010 at 11:59 AM  
Blogger TomCat said...

This is highly reminiscent of the timber interests in Oregon. Fortunately we have done a getter than average job of protecting native species here, but that need be done everywhere.

January 31, 2010 at 1:36 PM  
Blogger TomCat said...

PS. Thanks for your visit and comment at PP. I have added you to the blogroll.

January 31, 2010 at 1:38 PM  
Blogger Tom Harper said...

Holte: That's the truth -- a small annual rainfall is "nature's way of saying don't grow water needy crops here." There's an arid region somewhere in central California where there are lots of rice paddies. With all the irrigation needed to keep rice paddies flooded, think of the other uses they could find for that amount of water.

TomCat: Ah yes, the good old timber wars of Oregon, the northern California coast and Washington (where I live now). The Pacific Northwest has done a pretty good job of protecting native species (we've won some and lost some), but you're right that the rest of the world needs to do this too.

January 31, 2010 at 2:07 PM  
Anonymous S.W. Anderson said...

Maybe I should recuse myself. I like wine, including some excellent wines from California. However, taking a pass wouldn't be any fun at all, so here goes.

What we have here isn't evil grape growers out to destroy rivers or fish. And I hope we don't have evil fish fans and river lovers out to destroy California's wine industry. If you look around, the state is in deep doo doo, with its automotive, aircraft building, media, tourist and other industries hurting, along with a lot of other things.

Maybe it's time for state government to review the situation and impose a compromise. Maybe it will be necessary to say no more new wineries in that area, and existing wineries will have to live with ceiling on production so they don't overstress the rivers.

America is a jungle of competing interests of all kinds. If we demonize all of them, we'll end up with a bloody battleground where no one is safe or happy. Wine growers have their side of the story, just as those who want to protect fish and rivers do.

Government's job is to give the competing interests a fair hearing and factor in what's in the longterm best interest of the people as a whole. Of course county supervisors/water officials where the wine industry pretty much is the local economy are going to be protective of the wine industry. That's where the jobs and revenues are.

That's where state and federal governments come in, because they can look beyond the relatively narrow local interest and impose some limits.

Obviously, I'm expressing a minority opinion here. But think about it. Forty or 50 years ago, any one of us could've put the auto industry down for pretty much getting its way left and right in the U.S. and Michigan. Now, I wish there was still a strong, prosperous auto industry getting its way in Michigan, instead of a state with a gutted, struggling industrial base, devastated tax base, decaying communities, and all the expenses of education, law enforcement and other services, but young people fleeing elsewhere for nicer places to live with better career opportunities.

Business interests often overstep their bounds and get advantages out of proportion to their contributions. That should be stopped, but not to the point doing them all in.

January 31, 2010 at 5:04 PM  
Blogger Tom Harper said...

SW: I agree wholeheartedly with "Maybe it will be necessary to say no more new wineries in that area, and existing wineries will have to live with ceiling on production so they don't overstress the rivers."

But that's about as likely as a health care reform bill that prohibits HMOs from dropping their patients' coverage, or an energy bill that promotes conservation and renewable energy sources -- and for the same reasons.

During the 15 years I lived in Sonoma County, it turned from a largely rural area with lots of agricultural diversity, to mostly urban and suburban with most of the farmland being vineyards.

There were a lot of small news items and letters to newspapers that displayed the wine industry's underlying attitude of "I'm bigger than you, what are you gonna do about it?" I haven't given it much thought since we moved from there in 2004, but that linked article just triggered everything and I had to rant about it.

There definitely needs to be more fairness and balance between grape growers and neighboring landowners, and between vineyards and the environment. And I think the only hope for this is state and/or federal legislation; since the local legislators never met a vineyard owner that they didn't fall down and swoon over.

January 31, 2010 at 6:26 PM  
Anonymous S.W. Anderson said...

Tom, I understand your desire to rant about this completely.

This situation is interesting because it points up the fallacy in a long and widely accepted "truism" about American government and politics. That's the one that says government that's closest to the people serves them best.

January 31, 2010 at 8:25 PM  
Blogger Tom Harper said...

SW: You're right, that expression "government that's closest to the people serves them best" is one of everybody's favorite urban legends. Too often the local government is just a good old boy network that has a chokehold on the community.

February 1, 2010 at 11:26 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Keep posting stuff like this i really like it

February 26, 2010 at 9:06 AM  

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