The Sonoma County Board of Supervisors this afternoon will consider a significantly revised timeline for implementation of newly adopted county rules for use vineyard and orchard frost protection with water, pushing the start of formal stream-flow monitoring to early 2012.
Registration of frost-protection systems in the Russian River watershed will begin March 1 as originally specified in the Vineyard and Orchard Frost Protection Ordinance, which the board approved Dec. 14. However, the water-use monitoring and reporting part of the ordinance, which would provide state and federal regulators data on how much water was flowing in streams containing protected fish, hit a snag last week during last-minute contract negotiations between the county and the winegrape grower-formed nonprofit corporation that would administer that portion.
"It is unfortunate we were not able to finalize the contract, a couple of growers were not happy with the process, and that set us back at the last minute," said Pete Opatz of Silverado Premium Properties and a key organizer of the group, called the Russian River Water Conservation Council.
A major issue was the collection of information that could identify water usage at specific properties. In October when the ordinance was being prepared, the National Marine Fisheries Service enforcement officers in Santa Rosa told the county staff that the ordinance needed to have a strong and transparent monitoring program. The adopted ordinance provided for an increasing network of stream-flow gauges, with results analyzed by an independent science panel run by a U.C. Berkeley scientist and reviewed by regulatory agencies.
"The National Marine Fisheries Service is very disappointed, to say the least, and I don't blame them," Mr. Opatz said about the delay in the start of the formal monitoring.
To get the program into place by the March 1 start of the frost season, the county Agricultural Commissioner's Office will start registering growers for a fee of $64 per location. Late fees will be waived through June 1.
The county plans to report back to the Board of Supervisors near the end of this year with a completed contract with the council. In that time, the county plans to talk with state and federal protected species regulators, environmental groups and others about implementation of the program, according to a staff report to the board.
The State Water Resources Control Board is expected to completed draft regulations for Russian River frost-protection water use this fall for possible adoption in 2012.
Meanwhile, backers of the Russian River Water Conservation Council plan to keep the startup of the monitoring effort moving forward this year so that it is in place by the 2012 frost season. There are 25 to 30 stream gauges that resource agencies already installed along sensitive fish migration streams in the county, and the California Land Stewardship Institute recently received funding for more gauges and training on installing gauges to collect accurate data. Some large growers are seriously considering putting money up to install some gauges too.
"When 2012 rolls around, we hope to have started to get information collected and be ready to fully implement the program," said Douglas McIlroy of Rodney Strong Wine Estates.