Lake County Citizens Coalition

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The Snows Lake Vineyard

In 2001, the new owners of a 2,500 acre holding on Perini Hill near Lower Lake, called Snows Lake Vineyard, bulldozed over 650 acres for vineyard development, including hundreds of native oaks, without any form of County review. The waters of Seigler Creek ran red with the soil washed downstream from the erosion. When the local concerned citizens inquired how this project could have gone forward without any form of grading permit, they discovered that the project applicant had been "coached" by County planning staff to describe the project as merely involving the removal and redevelopment of an abandoned walnut orchard. As a result of this misrepresentation, the entire vineyard was allowed to go forward based on a complete absence of any form of erosion control plan or other environmental review.

Among the severest impacts of the Snows Lake Vineyard was that its wells were installed in a way that almost immediately dried up the aquifers feeding springs in the Murphy Springs area. These springs have historically provided excellent drinking water for homes in the area for more than eighty years. For the first time ever, the springs ran dry and local residents were left without any water.

Formation of the Coalition

The Coalition was formed in August, 2001 amidst general consternation over the County of Lake's lack of a vigorous response to the Snows Lake Vineyard crisis. Despite several public hearings before the Board of Supervisors during the summer of 2001, in which the public outcry over the carnage associated with the project was well and clearly expressed, the Supervisors avoided dealing with the issue and eventually allowed the vineyard project to continue moving forward without requiring a grading permit or review of the project to date under the California Environmental Quality Act.

The Coalition brought suit in Lake County Superior Court to force the County of Lake to perform its legal responsibility to require proper permitting and environmental review of the Snows Lake Vineyard project. The suit [Lake Co. Citizens Coalition v. County of Lake, Case No. 41811], in combination with continuing political involvement, ultimately brought about a settlement. The settlement involved an agreement for the vineyard project to cooperate in protecting and monitoring local water supplies, to establish wildlife corridors, to adopt and follow erosion control plans, and to upgrade local roads and bridges that were overburdened by truck traffic associated with the vineyardıs operations.

A Success Story

The involvement of the Coalition in addressing the Snows Lake Vineyard situation is a success story. Today, neighbors live in harmony with the vineyard, as the vineyard has learned how to adjust its well water usage to avoid disrupting the nearby springs. The vineyard has shared some of its excess produce with local residents, who have made wine that has flowed at numerous Coalition gatherings.