SANTA ROSA -- The Sonoma County Board of Supervisors on Tuesday is set to consider final details for the recently adopted Sonoma County Vineyard and Orchard Frost Protection Ordinance before growers are required to start registering their water-based frost-fighting systems on March 1.
The board was set to consider proposed fees growers would pay to cover the ordinance’s monitoring and reporting provisions, finalize a three-year ordinance implementation contract and clear up lingering details at its Feb. 1 meeting. Proposed fees for the program are $300 for growers to register and $12.50 per acre of land guarded against frost.
However, negotiations with the nonprofit corporation that would be administering the ordinance under county contract, Russian River Watershed Coalition, was still being finalized, according to Peter Rumble, an analyst in the county Administrator's Office.
"It's taking longer than we thought," he said.
David Keller, Bay Area director of Friends of the Eel River, a conservation group that has been critical of unregulated use of the Russian River watershed for frost protection, expressed dismay that these final negotiations have not included other stakeholders outside the wine industry.
"Once again, what happened two months ago is being repeated," he said.
He likened it to the approval process for the ordinance between its initial presentation to the board Nov. 9 and approval Dec. 14. Conservation groups objected to the few days' notice between when the ordinance scoping documents were released and the initial unveiling.
Mr. Rumble said that involvement of conservation and other concerned groups has been "limited" since the adoption of the ordinance because talks between the county and nonprofit are related to draft contract terms.
"It's making sure the contractor and county are comfortable with the insurance and indemnity and scope of work that the board saw and approved," Mr. Rumble said. "We're not negotiating work with the groups, and we did reach out to them regarding the scope of work that was approved."
The county Assessor’s Office found that nearly 19,000 acres of vines in the county have frost-protection systems. Yet only 16,000 acres are protected with overhead sprinklers, which can consume as much as 50 gallons per minute per acre on frosty nights.
The number of sprinkler-protected acres that draw water from the Russian River watershed is estimated to be 11,000, when use of recycled water and other watersheds are considered, according to Lex McCorvey, executive director of the Sonoma County Farm Bureau.
The ordinance requires growers drawing water from the Russian River watershed for frost protection to register those systems with the county Agricultural Commissioner’s Office, including equipment used as well as source and location of the water diversions.
Starting next year through 2013, a network of water gauges will be installed on key fish habitat creeks to monitor stream flow. Data will be analyzed by an independent science review panel, commented on by regulatory agencies then submitted to the county for transmission to the State Water Resources Control Board annually.
The Sonoma County Board of Supervisors is set to consider the frost ordinance fee proposal, management contract with Russian River Watershed Coalition and final revisions to the ordinance in the 2:10 p.m. session.