SANTA ROSA -- The Sonoma County Board of Supervisors on Tuesday voted 5-0 to proceed to a final vote at next week's meeting on a draft frost-protection water use ordinance, despite warnings from several conservation groups today to slow down the process and make it more "transparent."
County staff will be working until Dec. 14 at 10 a.m. to craft a final ordinance from recent revisions, including six by the County Counsel's Office earlier Tuesday, plus address concerns highlighted this afternoon by the National Marine Fisheries Service. At the same meeting, county staff hope to finish work on a schedule of fees to pay for the monitoring and reporting program.
The goal is to get growers' frost-protection systems registered by the time the frost season begins in the spring and increase the coverage of monitoring to 22 creeks via 70 to 100 gauges over three years. Penalities for noncompliance with a county ordinance are more than $1,000 plus $500 a day as well as possible jail time.
"Is it perfect? No," said Supervisor Shirlee Zane. "But it is a good pilot for the regulations that are to come and it supports a cash crop in this county."
Peter Rumble, an analyst in the County Administrator's Office, emphasized to the board that the county Agricultural Commissioner's Office would retain ownership of data collected by a likely "qualified nonprofit" contractor to manage the gauge monitoring and reporting program. A number of conservation groups have objected to a leading contender for the contract to run the monitoring and reporting program being Russian River Water Coalition Inc., a nonprofit recently formed by winegrape growers for that purpose.
"There is no hiding of information," Mr. Rumble told the board.
The draft ordinance includes a system of real-time stream gauges, data-logging gauges and analysis by an independent panel of scientists plus federal and state wildlife regulators before being submitted to the State Water Resources Control Board near the end of each year.
David Hines, coordinator of the National Marine Fisheries Service's water policy program, told the board that county staff incorporated many elements that concerned the agency, as expressed in an Oct. 19 letter to the board leading up to the Nov. 9 presentation of the draft ordinance. Three aspects of the revised draft he said he liked are the registration program, which he noted for the first time will provide an inventory of who is diverting how much water from the watershed, a planned stream-flow monitoring program and the independent science review panel to provide "transparency and objectivity" to the monitoring program.
"While it has a lot of promise, I can't support it until a few issues are resolved," Mr. Hines told the board. He allowed that the problems stem from the haste in bringing the proposed ordinance forward. He said he looked forward to working with the county up to next Tuesday to resolve the concerns.
Mr. Hines told the board he saw potential for the stream-gauge data to be withheld from regulators and was concerned about accuracy of the information reported by the growers on how they're using the water for frost protection. He said he was reassured by Mr. Rumble's statement to the board Tuesday that the Agricultural Commissioner's Office would own the data under the contract, making the data subject to public-records requests.