Rhys Vineyards, LLC Agrees to Pay $3.7 Million for Multiple Violations of Federal Clean Water Act

By on August 7, 2019

The State Water Resources Control Board announced on Friday that Rhys Vineyards, LLC, has agreed to pay $3.7 million in penalties for committing multiple violations of the federal Clean Water Act following a civil liability settlement. A multiagency inspection team had discovered a series of illegal activities on a 20-acre vineyard, which included the permanent fill and loss of a half-acre of wetlands and 2,148 feet of a stream channel buried beneath the property. Also discovered were the development of improper construction of roads and stream crossings – causing irreparable harm to already fragile wetlands – and was conducted without the required permits or authorization from state agencies.

The property straddles the South Fork Eel River and North Fork Ten Mile River watersheds in Mendocino County. The Rhys Vineyards, LLC property spans 4,591 acres over 41 parcels in and around the North Fork Ten Mile River watershed and nearby outlying areas of Mendocino County.

“The illegal and permanent loss of wetlands and streams caused by the vineyard construction was an egregious violation of state and federal law,” said Josh Curtis, assistant executive officer of the North Coast Regional Water Quality Control Board (NCRWQCB). “This settlement demonstrates our commitment to protecting and restoring our region’s waters and maintaining a level playing field for the vast majority of the region’s vineyard operations who work proactively to meet or exceed environmental regulations.”

The settlement requires Rhys Vineyards to pay approximately $1.89 million of the $3.7 million penalty to fund two habitat restoration projects. One is a supplemental environmental project in the nearby South Fork Ten Mile River, overseen by the Nature Conservancy, to restore aquatic habitat to support resident fisheries and wildlife. The second project is to enhance instream habitat in Dutch Charlie Creek managed through the National Fish and Wildlife Foundation.

The investigation into Rhys Vineyards’ violations involved the State Water Board, North Coast Regional Water Board and Department of Fish and Wildlife, and stretched over four years. In addition to the violations of the Clean Water Act, infractions also violated the state’s Water Code, North Coast Water Quality Control Plan and Fish and Game Code. In addition to the financial penalty Rhys Vineyards is faced with required corrective actions.

The agreement requires the vineyard to correct the entire road network on the property to mitigate and/or eliminate future sediment impacts. Excessive sediment negatively impacts the migration, spawning, and reproduction of salmonid species, such as endangered Chinook and Coho salmon and steelhead trout, found within the impacted watersheds. Soil erosion from hillsides to watersheds below is a major source of pollution on properties throughout the Mendocino County region.

“The extraordinary coordination of enforcement actions among the agencies was instrumental in bringing Rhys Vineyards into compliance and results in significant downstream fisheries restoration,” said Julé Rizzardo, an assistant deputy director in the State Water Board’s Division of Water Rights. “We believe the extent of the cooperation is a road map for future joint actions that will protect California’s precious environmental resources.”