It is fair to say that just about everyone in Sonoma County, and indeed the State of California, has developed a heightened awareness about our water challenges. Water is so treasured and so essential that people in our County and across the State are quickly mobilizing to conserve this precious resource. From my perspective, agriculture in Sonoma County can, and must, play a key role in developing solutions for a sustainable water future. Assuming a leadership role provides immeasurable benefit and serves to emphasize our firm belief that agriculture is the standard bearer for stewardship.
Recently National Marine Fisheries Services, along with the California Department of Fish and Wildlife offered agriculture the opportunity to assume that leadership role. In an effort to achieve their goals of protecting Coho salmon, the agencies wisely decided to take the carrot – as opposed to the stick approach – and drafted the California Voluntary Drought Initiative. Several workshops have been held to inform landowners of this new program.
This Initiative was a direct result of Governor Brown’s April 2014 Executive Order mandating better management of water to protect the State’s economy as well as our aquatic resources. The Initiative’s micro goal is to secure assistance from landowners in maintaining stream flows for endangered Coho Salmon in key habitat stream reaches including Dutch Bill, Mark West, Mill and Green Valley Creeks. Further, the voluntary program encourages agriculture to demonstrate that our land use and water practices contribute to conservation throughout the watershed.
While few of us have known about this new voluntary program it is time for us to gain a better understanding of how we can best participate. To date, two of the largest vineyard owners in the County have agreed to release water from their reservoirs to “wet” critical streams during the dry months in an effort to provide over-summering habitat for Coho. A handful of rural residences have agreed to forgo watering their yards and gardens to leave additional water in the stream. In fact, in total only 17 individuals, most of them rural residences, have agreed to participate. Minus broad participation in this voluntary program few doubt that new regulations will be implemented in the very near future. Those regulations will likely mandate water use monitoring and conservation practices in the Russian River watershed.
Now that we are informed, it is incumbent upon us to step up and demonstrate that we are a part of the solution and not the problem. We have been given an opportunity to collaboratively work with the agencies to achieve goals that benefit all of us. The agencies are well aware that without private landowner participation in conservation efforts there is a very good chance that the Sonoma County population of Coho will be forever lost. Our leadership at this point time will contribute to Coho survival and quite likely ours as well.
Let’s encourage the use of the carrot and show the rest of California that by working together we can produce positive outcomes. If you are willing to participate in the Drought Initiative please contact Craig Weightman of California Department of Fish and Wildlife at firstname.lastname@example.org or contact David Hines of National Marine Fisheries Service at email@example.com. Leadership at this point time will contribute to Coho so survival and quite likely ours as well.