NAPA -- As state water regulators prepare to send out water-use curtailment notices to winegrape growers and other property owners in part of the Russian River watershed to stave off a drought disaster, the state's top agriculture official told wine industry professionals that they should be proactive in local efforts to manage use of water above and below ground, because winds in Sacramento are blowing toward greater regulation.
[caption id="attachment_92497" align="aligncenter" width="550"] Karen Ross, Scott Greenwood-Meinert, Buzz Hines, Bill Vyenielo, Laurel Marcus[/caption]
"We want it to be as light-handed as possible, while still having it be real," Secty. Ross said to the seminar audience at the Napa Valley Marriott on Wednesday.
She pointed to the Gov. Brown's revision of the proposed state budget, released May 13, as a way to help local or regional water agencies put those water management plans together through grants for new monitoring and measuring technology. The revision calls for $18.1 million more for the state water board to find out more about what's happening with water above and below ground as well as providing agencies with "technical guidance."
"Putting a meter on every well is not the best use of resources," she said about state regulation.
The state water board is moving toward cutting back use of Russian River water from Healdsburg north starting the latter half of May, applying first to water permits obtained after 1914, with application to pre-1914 permits then riparian rights coming later. Fines are $1,000 a day plus a $2,500 penalty. The water board has received more funding for enforcement efforts and is diverting staff to curtailment spot checks.
Napa County's recent Groundwater Resources Advisory Committee report to the Board of Supervisors found that the valley's aquifers are, for the most part, amply supplied to make it through this year. Yet even there, and in many places of the state, how many users are tapping groundwater and how much is coming out is not known, Dickenson Peatman & Fogarty environmental law attorney Scott Greenwood-Meinert told the seminar audience.
The North Coast should develop more fully for irrigation is recycled water, he said. "Recycled water" is considered to be the more agreeable name for wastewater treated to secondary or tertiary levels of quality.
"It's critically important for Napa and Sonoma (counties) for a multiyear drought," he said.
Accounting and business advisory firm Moss Adams is advising its clients to focus more on managing water from vine to wine as legislation moves toward restricting groundwater rights, according to Bill Vyenielo, senior North Bay manager. Thankfully, there are new tools for collecting, analyzing and acting on data from weather conditions in the vineyard and how much water vines are using and need.
"A lot of tools available to the industry were not there five to 10 years ago," he said.
Water supply is becoming more of a factor in whether governments approve new vineyard and winery projects -- and whether such properties get sold, according to attorneys.
"If there is a purchase or sale of a vineyard, buyers want to make sure there are sufficient rights to water and do those rights have sufficient supply," said Buzz Hines, environmental law partner and chairman of the Farella Braun + Martel's Air Quality and Climate Change Group.
Recycled water projects are expanding throughout the North Coast for the frost-protection and irrigation needs of vineyards. The town of Yountville has 360 acre-feet of recycled water available per year and now has extended its pipelines to vineyards and properties on both sides of Napa River.