Growers Gear Up to Comply with Frost Regulation to Protect Crops Next Spring

Written By: Tim Tesconi
Published: December 31, 2014

Growers in Sonoma and Mendocino counties who use Russian River water for frost protection must submit a plan to the State Water Resources Board by Feb. 1 if they plan to use water from the Russian River system to protect their crops during next spring’s frost season.

Hundreds of growers along the Russian River are impacted by state rules regulating stream diversions during next spring’s frost season, March 15 through May 15. The regulation is designed to protect fish when large amounts of water are diverted from the river and its tributaries for frost events in vineyards and orchards.

Growers need to act soon, if they haven’t already done so, to file a Water Demand Management Plan (WDMP) with the State Water Resources Control Board. Farmers are prohibited from diverting or pumping water from the Russian River system during the frost season without an approved plan. All plans must be submitted to the state by Feb. 1.

A grape grower or farmer can meet the requirements by filing an individual WDMP with the state or by joining an existing group such as the Russian River Watershed Conservation Council, which was established to assist growers in complying with the regulation.  The State Water Board encourages group plans, which will be less costly for individual growers.

Tito Sasaki, president of Sonoma County Farm Bureau, said a majority of the impacted growers in the Russian River watershed have already taken steps to comply with the state rules but others may not be aware they need to submit the WDMP by the Feb. 1 deadline.

“Sonoma County Farm Bureau wants to alert growers who may be unaware of the regulation and what steps they need to take to comply with the state regulation so they can protect their vineyards next spring,” said Sasaki.

The users of Russian River water not only include those who have appropriated or have riparian rights to divert water from the  Russian River or its tributaries  but also those using a well that is  hydrologically connected to  these streams.

Doug McIlroy, Director of Winegrowing at Rodney Strong Vineyards and a board member of the Russian River Watershed Conservation Council, said his group will be awaiting State Water Board approval before accepting new members for Water Demand Management Plans for 2015. McIlroy advised any growers interested in joining the Russian River Watershed Conservation Council in the meantime to send an email to with their contact information.  McIlroy said once his group receives state approval these growers will be sent an email asking them to complete their WDMP registration after Jan. 1 to meet the Feb. 1 deadline.

Another group, the Russian River Property Owners Association, headed by Al Cadd of Alexander Valley, could be another option for growers. Cadd said his group is deciding the next step and whether it will take new members for the WDMP registration in 2015.Meanwhile, interested growers can email Cadd at  with their contact information.

The County of Sonoma, through the Sonoma County Agricultural Commissioner’s Office, is also working with farmers so they can comply with state rules. The county requires that all impacted farmers provide information about their frost protection systems and their water sources for dealing with frost.

The State Water Resources Board implemented the rules on Nov. 5 following the conclusion of a three year legal battle between farmers and the State Water Resources Board over the rules, which were first issued in 2011 but were stalled because of the litigation. On Oct. 1 the California Supreme Court ruled in favor of the State Water Resources Control Board, which is now implementing the regulation that requires the Water Demand Management Plan.

“The purpose of the Water Demand Management Plan is to both assess the extent to which diversions associated with frost protection can affect stream stage as well as to manage the combined effect of those diversions to prevent salmonid stranding and mortality,” according to the State Water Resources Control Board.

Thomas Howard, executive director of the State Water Board, said in a letter to stakeholders that diversions of water from the Russian River system that “are not in accordance with State Water Board approved WDMP are a violation of the regulation and subject to enforcement action.”

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