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.

A pipeline that would supply 450 acre-feet of reclaimed water annually from Napa Sanitation District extended across Napa River last year to Los Carneros winegrowing region straddling southern Napa and Sonoma counties. This July, the water district there will be asking growers for a 20-year assessment of $100 an acre to finish the pipeline.

The Sonoma Valley Sanitation District has been supplying 2,000 acre-feet of recycled water to area vineyards for a while.

A project further over the horizon is the Milliken-Sarco-Tulocay area east and northeast of Napa, including part of the Coombsville winegrowing region. It has been under a virtual moratorium to vineyard and other development since a 2004 county ordinance because of it's was deemed a groundwater-poor basin. But that's unlikely to change because a $2,000-an-acre proposed assessment has made extending a recycled-water pipeline there "dead" until something else is figured out, according to Mr. Greenwood-Meinert.

Healdsburg in early May received approval from the North Coast Regional Water Quality Control Board to truck recycled water to Dry Creek Valley.

The city of Ukiah is at the beginning stages of a $18.6 million--$24.4 million, four-phase project to pipe 831 acre-feet of recycled water to 30 farm parcels and 13 landscaped properties north and south of the municipal plant, according to Laurel Marcus, executive director of Napa-based California Land Stewardship Institute, which administrators of the Fish-Friendly Farming certification program and is helping to spearhead the project with the Mendocino County Farm Bureau.

"When it's used for frost protection, there are no grapes on the vines," Ms. Marcus said. "Use for irrigation is by drip irrigation only, with no splash onto the grapes. So the recycled water does not touch the grapes."

The institute just received a $523,500 grant from the North Coast Integrated Regional Water Management Program of the California Department of Water Resources. That money comes with $440,000 from the city, $278,700 from the Natural Resource Conservation Service and local growers, and $252,200 from city, federal and private funds, providing $1.5 million toward the first phase of the project. which would connect first to two irrigation ponds funded under programs put forward after the 2008 month of frosty nights drained grower reservoirs and prompted a lot of pumping from the Russian River watershed and wells.