SANTA ROSA -- The Sonoma County Board of Supervisors this afternoon is set to consider reworked local rules for use of well and stream water for frost protection in parts of the Russian River Basin deemed key habitat for protected fish.
The new draft of the Vineyard and Orchard Frost Protection Ordinance replaces a permit program for use of well and stream water for frost protection with a registration system, focuses on use of water for frost protection rather than other methods such as wind machines and heaters, and includes a three-year roll out of new stream gauges and reporting of stream-flow data on a publicly accessibly website.
If approved today, the ordinance would take effect in mid-January. A schedule of registration fees to pay for the reporting and administration of the program is being prepared for the Dec. 14 board meeting.
The tone of the National Marine Fisheries Service, which oversees protection of listed fish species, has changed from the chilly reception it gave the draft of the Vineyard and Orchard Frost Protection Ordinance presented at the Nov. 9 board meeting. However, some conservationists aren't impressed with the changes or the process for crafting the original and the revision.
The fisheries service in early 2008 petitioned the State Water Resources Control Board to take action on use of the Russian River watershed to protect tender vine parts, following reported incidents of young fish being stranded out of the water.
In a four-page "scoping document" on the proposed frost-monitoring program, Santa Rosa-based fisheries service water-quality specialist David Hines wrote that the long-term frost-water monitoring and reporting program would help in the development of a local water-demand management program to aid in preventing future fish strandings. He noted that any local rules likely would change when the State Water Resources Control Board releases its frost-water rules, targeted for 2012.
"As monitoring and reporting bring greater focus to the location, magnitude and causative factors relating to frost impact, growers and agencies will be notified that specific diversions are potentially in conflict with salmonid resources," Mr. Hines wrote. "If the identified impacts are not addressed, resource agencies will investigate and take enforcement actions as appropriate."
On Oct. 19 the fisheries service told the Board of Supervisors in a letter that the proposed ordinance "lacks the means to establish a meaningful monitoring program and a transparent process."
David Keller, Bay Area director of the conservation group Friends of the Eel River, which is concerned about divisions from that North Coast watershed to feed the Russian River, said that the revised ordinance is "frost protection lite" because it lacks regulatory authority and enforcement. He objects to the proposal for the county to contract monitoring and reporting out to a grower-organized group called Russian River Water Conservation Council.
"Once again, there is no transparency in the reporting, monitoring or data," he said.
The council would fund an independent science review panel that would set up the stream-flow study and analyze gauge data. The tentative chairman of the panel is Matt Kondolf, chairman of the U.C. Berkeley Institute for the Environment. Under the proposed ordinance, the panel would be set up by July 1, 2011.