Sonoma County ag crafts frost-pumping ordinance as model
[caption id="attachment_26537" align="alignleft" width="108" caption="Robert Eyler"][/caption]
Nov. 9: Draft frost-protection ordinance to be presented to the Sonoma County Board of Supervisors.
Nov. 17: State Water Resources Control Board workshop on Russian River watershed frost-protection rules. Time: 3--5 p.m. Location: North Coast Regional Water Quality Control Board, 5550 Skylane Blvd., Santa Rosa.
Nov. 30: Comments due to the water board on the proposed frost-protection rules.
SONOMA AND MENDOCINO COUNTIES -- The impact of proposed state rules controlling the use of Russian River basin water to protect winegrapes and other crops from frost damage could exceed $2.1 billion from lost business income, tax revenue, land values and 8,000-plus jobs in Sonoma and Mendocino counties, according to a new study by a Sonoma State University economist.
The 52-page study was conducted over five months by Robert Eyler, Ph.D., an economist in charge of Sonoma State University's Center for Regional Economic Analysis but conducting this examination privately for a Russian River vintner.
The finding comes as agriculture groups in Sonoma County prepare to introduce a frost-control ordinance hoped to be a model for Mendocino County and to shape the regulation being considered by the State Water Resources Control Board.
[caption id="attachment_26538" align="alignright" width="360" caption="Frost-damaged wine bud and vineyard (photos by U.C. Cooperative Extension)"][/caption]
The study fingered the pending state rulemaking in estimates of what would happen to wine-related businesses if the crop in the two counties were reduced by 10 percent to 30 percent were growers not able to access enough water to coat sensitive vine growth with ice and water for protection against frosty air in situations where sprinklers are most effective.
"This regulation would act like a tax on vineyard farmers, wineries and many allied industries, including tourism," Dr. Eyler wrote in study. "The economic effects on wine vineyard farmers would include increased costs of frost protection, forcing investment in another frost protection method, such as wind. Wind or other frost-protection methods may be so much less effective that farmers could lose crops or even their livelihoods."
The economic-impact study was funded by luxury-tier Russian River Valley vintner Williams Selyem and released Tuesday by Dr. Eyler via his new Petaluma-based consulting firm for private-sector projects, Economic Forensics and Analytics.
He used the commonly implemented IMPLAN economic model for estimating the direct, indirect and induced effects of net losses from higher costs of frost protection as a cost of goods sold.
A water board spokesman said the study was "based on a number of assumptions, which range from the improbable to the bizarre."
The analysis assumed vineyard values in a declining real estate market would be affected by regulations not in final form, annual crop losses can be projected for serious frost damage that historically has been rare and limited to portions of certain vineyards, and impacts of frost damage to vines in isolated locations would have a negligible impact on tourism, according to Bill Rukeyser.
"This guy's assumptions appear to be that the regulations will be drawn up to ban frost pumping rather than coordinating it," he said.