Flurry of Fines as Federal Fluvial Geomorphologist Assists Sonoma D.A. in Slurry Case

The Sonoma County District Attorney yesterday fined an engineering firm and vineyard-management company for their role in unloosing an unknown quantity of slurry into the Dry Creek in Healdsburg during a vineyard replant. Together, the companies were fined $74,500 after getting two violations from the county Agricultural Commissioner’s Office related to the project. According to a statement from DA Jill Ravitch, the Ag Commish issued a permit in Oct. 2014 “on a project with steep slopes to replant a vineyard,” on land owned by Robert Covert and Mary Roy (they were not cited in the civil complaint). That December, a big storm prompted a big landslide on the property, and the Ag Commish found that “plans that would have protected runoff from leaving the property were not followed,” and cited the firms. The investigation found that the subsequent slurry from the landslide was directed towards Dry Creek, according to a release from the DA’s office, “although it is unknown how much slurry entered the creek.” The Ag Commish then okayed “stabilization plans to keep the hillside at the site stable,” but the firms failed to follow those temporary plans, “and made permanent repairs to the project.” That earned them a second violation, and a referral to the DA. 

About a year later, in November 2015, the DA filed unlawful business practice and water pollution charges against the defendants, who “agreed to resolve the case,” according to the Feb. 3 release. Along with the fines, “each will be subject to a 10-year injunction prohibiting violations of environmental protection laws,” according to the DA, which doped out the fines thusly: Valdez & Sons Vineyard Management agreed to pay “approximately $50,000 in civil penalties, restitution and costs while Kelder Engineering agreed to pay $24,500 in civil penalties, restitution and costs. Restitution will go to the Russian Riverkeeper for equipment and monitoring of the Dry Creek and Russian River watersheds and to the Sonoma County Fish and Wildlife Propagation Fund.”      

There were a bunch of folks involved in the investigation, from the Ag Commish’s office, state Fish and Wildlife, the Regional Water Quality Control Board. The federal National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration provided support from a fluvial geomorphologist, which, let’s face it, is a rather cool-sounding job title. 

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