Groups rally to show they can protect vines while saving water for fish
SANTA ROSA – A coalition of farming trade groups and major winegrape growers in Mendocino and Sonoma counties plans to demonstrate the state water regulators at a meeting Wednesday that growers have made significant recent progress toward protecting fish while protecting their vines from frost, despite a new letter from federal fish wardens to the contrary.
[caption id="attachment_16668" align="alignleft" width="288" caption=" Rich Schaefer, general manager of Beckstoffer Vineyards' Mendocino County operations, stands on the rim of a 60 acre-foot reservoir the company built in accordance with approved water rights to tap Russian River water for frost protection. (photo courtesy of Sean White, Mendocino County Russian River Flood Control and Water Conservation Improvement District)"][/caption]
The State Water Resources Control Board plans to hold a workshop in Sacramento regarding its April directive to water and wildlife regulators, water suppliers and farming groups to work together toward making sure that frost-protection efforts don't leave fish without water. Some officials said that occurred in the Russian River and a tributary in 2008 during the worst stint of spring frost in three decades.
State law requires enough water to remain in North Coast waterways for habitat of protected fish and control of dam releases to avoid upsetting that habitat.
In an Oct. 22 letter to the board, the Santa Rosa law enforcement group of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration's National Marine Fisheries Service noted "few, if any, tangible results" in more than a year of monthly meetings of the Russian River Frost Protection Task Force.
"Since there has been no significant progress with these efforts, it is still our opinion that the only way to prevent future kills of ESA-listed salmonids is for the State Water Resources Control Board to recognize their responsibility and implement water-use regulations that fully address frost protection," wrote Dan Torquemada, assistant special agent in charge.
"Failure to do so will continue to result in take, and the use of tremendous volumes of water diverted for frost protection will continue to pose a future threat to ESA-listed salmonids, some on the verge of extinction, throughout the entire Russian River watershed."
[caption id="attachment_16669" align="alignright" width="288" caption="A Farm Bill grant helped fund an 8 acre-foot reservoir Peter Chevalier Jr. of Chevalier Vineyard Management built for Sawyer Vineyards to shift frost-protection water sourcing from the Russian River. (photo courtesy of Sean White, Mendocino County Russian River Flood Control and Water Conservation Improvement District)"][/caption]
The task force made "some progress" in developing best management practices for frost protection and water use, a framework for monitoring cooperation in the solutions and facilitation of permits that allow for solutions such as construction of off-stream reservoirs, according to the letter.
However, the NOAA wardens are concerned about how those reservoirs are filled or refilled and the extension of these management efforts to all tributaries with fish habitat in the river basin.
Leaders of the farm bureaus in Mendocino and Sonoma counties said they plan to use this letter as a springboard to detail good-faith efforts and "real progress" toward solutions to what they consider to be a short-term problem.