Russian River Frost Protection
By John Azevedo, president
Now is the time of year when the farm teams takes note of the first signs of renewed life in the vineyard – budbreak. Largely due to the lack of rain, this milestone is making an early appearance this year. This event for Sonoma County grapegrowers is also a reminder that it is time to begin monitoring water use during frost events and reporting that activity by submitting a Water Demand Management Program (WDMP) to the State Water Resources Control Board.
For those of you who may be unaware, a 2014 decision from a District Court of Appeals reinstated the Russian River Frost Protection Regulation. The regulation requires that any diversion from the Russian River stream system downstream of Warm Springs and Coyote Dams, for use during frost protection events from March 15th – May 15th, must file a WDMP with the State Water Board. Diversions, for the regulation’s purposes, include hydraulically connected groundwater. The regulation was put into place to prevent stranding and loss of salmon due to stream stage drops during frost events.
While this may seem like an overwhelming task – the good news is - it really is not! After several grower meetings, a coalition was created to respond to a recommendation by the State Water Board and the fishery agencies to file a single, collective WDMP for all vineyards in Sonoma County. Two grower groups, the Russian River Water Council Coalition chaired by Pete Opatz and the Russian River Property Owners Association chaired by Paul Foppiano, developed a compliance “program” and have made it available to all growers who will need to comply with the regulation.
I think it important to share my belief that this program provides the viticulture community one more opportunity to demonstrate its ongoing commitment to protecting our all of our resources. Water conservation and water management in Sonoma County grape production is especially important because threatened or endangered salmon are found in the Russian River watershed.
The goal of this grower-designed coalition program is first and foremost to establish that agriculture’s water use is based upon conservation practices mindful of the competing resources we are committed to protecting. Collectively, our grower community has spent enormous capital and energy to better manage frost activities. Reservoirs – which take water during times of high flow for use during times when fisheries need the water, have been constructed on a thoughtful and impressive scale. An increasing number of wind machines can be seen across many of our valley floors.
This program provides a “tool” to help growers to comply with the regulation, understand their water use, and develop ways to collaboratively manage water to better inform us as to how we can continue to reduce water for the protection of fisheries without negatively impacting our vineyards. I invite and encourage you to participate in this “collective” program. The program will help landowners fulfill the regulation mandate, and do so in a cost-efficient manner that provides as much protection for landowner generated data as possible. Working with the coalition’s program will be easier, more efficient and cost effective ($5 per frost protected acre) than trying to go it alone. For additional information about the coalition’s program please reach out to the Farm Bureau office at (707) 544-5575.
So while budbreak is an exciting time for most of us in the wine business, it also requires enhanced vigilance this year. Not only do we need to keep our vines safe from frost but we need to keep our right to farm safe for future generations. This means compliance with regulations and an ongoing demonstration that as farmers we are the best protectors of our land and all its resources.