GEYSERVILLE -- Winegrape growers that depend on water in the Russian River Basin to protect their vines from frost assert they have a better idea of how much water they're using and how to limit such use, while wildlife regulators say they're getting more precise information of water overuse and tools to curtail it.
That's what a capacity gathering of 168 vineyard and winery professionals braved an Alexander Valley downpour to hear at a Feb. 26 workshop on the nascent Russian River Frost Program. That program was presented to the State Water Resources Control Board in November as way to cooperatively manage water use similar to Napa Valley's three-decade-old regime.
Key to that management program are accurate information on the amount of water in the creeks and river at any given time before, during and after frost protection and irrigation as well as a good projection of water demand based on the number of acres using water against frost and the water actually used, according to farm bureau representatives from Mendocino and Sonoma counties. That means knowing how many acres of vines are frost-protected with water and having water and stream gauges to monitor use.
"We can show to the water board we are saving water from the maximum amount of water we could use," Laurel Marcus, executive director of the California Land Stewardship Institute, said at the workshop, which was hosted by the Sonoma County Winegrape Commission.
The group administers the Fish-Friendly Farming program, which develops fish habitat conservation projects. The institute is close to finalizing computer spreadsheets growers can use for figuring out how much water they are saving by following best-management practices for frost protection over conventional methods, according to Ms. Marcus.
The wine industry must show evidence of water conservation as the State Water Resources Control Board considers frost-water regulations as part of implementing the North Coast Instream Flow Policy called for under Assembly Bill 2121, she said. Federal fish regulators and conservation groups have called on the board to restrict the use of water for frost.
After presenting the program to the state water board, program advocates had their first discussions with the board on Feb. 16 in Sacramento.
Doug McIllroy, director of grower and vineyard operations for Rodney Strong Wine Estates, was one of the grower representatives at the meeting. "We're trying to define what it means to be in the program," he said at the Geyserville workshop. "It just got off the ground. It seems to be a collaborative discussion."
One of the points to be staked down is what is considered to be "significant" diversion of water from surface and underground channels for agricultural use, Mr. McIllroy noted.
At the workshop, the farm bureaus presented the latest tally of their survey of grapegrowing properties in the two counties based on information submitted by the growers and details from county assessor's offices.
In Sonoma County, 28,370 vineyard acres surveyed included 99 percent of 18,973 acres the assessor's office had noted for using frost protection, according to Lex McCorvey, executive director of the local farm bureau. Areas of focus were the Mayacama, Mark West and Green Valley watersheds.