[env-trinity] Associated Press 1 29 10
bwl3 at comcast.net
Fri Jan 29 10:08:33 PST 2010
Wine grape watering clashes with salmon protection
By Jason Dearen (Associated Press)
In this cool, fertile wine growing county in Northern California, grape
growers are stomping mad at a new plan to limit the amount of water
vineyards can pump from local rivers and streams to protect their crops from
frost - a draft regulation meant to safeguard coho salmon, a species on the
brink of extinction here.
Sonoma County, next to the more famous Napa Valley, has a fast-growing wine
industry - vineyard acreage has increased 30 to 40 percent over the past
decade and the county estimates the businesses generate about $2 billion
But now that growth has run up against federal protections for coho salmon,
an endangered species that once filled the streams and rivers along
California's central and northern coasts and now has crashed to nearly
In the spring, when hibernating vines start coming to life, temperatures can
drop below freezing overnight, destroying the young grapes. During these
frigid nights, growers spray river water onto the vines, encasing them in a
protective frozen shell that shields them from the harsh weather.
Farmers say one bad night, when temperatures drop five to 10 degrees below
freezing quickly, could wipe out huge percentages of their crop.
"It could, it very well could. Down here in the bottom, if we don't have the
water, it's not going to get it done," said vineyard manager Paul Foppiano,
standing in a low-lying field of pinot noir vines near the Russian River.
Sprinkers hovered over the gnarled vines in a part of his family's 140
acres, which have been producing wine in Sonoma County since 1896.
"The problem with frost is one year you might have to run 15 to 20 nights
like we did a couple of years ago," he said. "Last year we only ran three or
four nights so you're not using a whole lot (of water)."
Foppiano is not against the state managing the use of river water to help
protect fish, but believes accurate accounting of water use by other county
growers is needed before any regulatory decisions are made.
"If the state is willing to work with us, we're willing to work with
anybody," he said "But there's got to be some answer to it other than to
completely cut us off. It's going to be a problem."
At issue is the continued existence of the hook-mouthed coho salmon and the
threatened steelhead trout that spawn in these coastal streams and rivers -
a habitat that stretches from Alaska to central California. While coho still
thrive in Alaska, their once plentiful stocks in California and Oregon are
under threat, federal fisheries managers say.
Under the state's proposed regulation, any pumping would be illegal unless
approved by the State Water Board's management program. The new rule could
be in effect by 2011.
State water regulators say using river water for frost protection is legal,
but are seeking a middle ground that will protect fish and grapes while
ensuring some oversight.
"The goal is not to shut (pumping) down, but to make sure it's done in a
responsible manner with an eye to making sure the resources are protected,"
said Vicky Whitney, deputy director for the State Water Board.
With vineyards spreading quickly in the area, it was only a matter of time
before the burgeoning industry ran into a water issue.
In 2008 and 2009, both drought years, pumping by vineyards resulted in the
deaths of hundreds of coho and steelhead as creek levels dropped, stranding
the fish. The kills were well documented in local media, spurring outrage
from environmentalists and concern from federal fisheries managers.
State water officials and federal regulators said it is likely that many
more fish were killed in undocumented incidents, underscoring the need for
Growers have challenged that assertion, saying the problems that resulted in
the 2008 incidents that stranded and killed hundreds of coho and steelhead
have been addressed.
"I question the validity of their assertions of there being several
incidents," said Lex McCorvey, executive director of the Sonoma County Farm
Bureau, an advocate for the county's wine industry. "(Regulators) have a
responsibility to step forward with that information; that way the problems
can get fixed. In 2008, there were two incidents, both have been fixed so
they won't happen again."
Federal studies show that pumping during cold snaps, especially in recent
dry years when river levels are low, has dramatic effects on the river and
its tributaries. A study presented by NMFS found that pumping for frost
protection in 2004 and 2005 resulted in a 97 percent reduction in surface
flow of one of the Russian River's key tributaries, Maacama Creek, and the
water diversion's effects were seen throughout the watershed.
In April, after documented fish kills, federal fishery biologists at NMFS
urged the State Water Board to take control of the vineyard pumping.
The water board gave the growers six months in 2009 to come up with their
own management plan, but after seeing it, decided to draft their own
"The agriculture industry is not necessarily wanting to self regulate; we
want to self-monitor and educate growers so they're using either no water
out of the Russian River or (conservation techniques)," said McCorvey.
Meanwhile, there remains no regulation in place this year governing pumping
from the Russian River, which concerns federal scientists and environmental
"It is problematic for us to not have regulatory coverage, because we view
the threat of frost protection activities as widespread and significant,"
said David Hines, a federal fishery biologist and water rights specialist
Grape growers say a whole year's crop could be wiped out if temperatures
drop below freezing and they're unable to spray. Environmentalists say the
regulations might be too little too late for the area's coho.
"The state board started looking at frost pumping issues in 1997. They've
had over a decade to evaluate this issue," said Jeff Miller of the Center
for Biological Diversity, one of the environmental groups that filed an
intent to sue in an effort to spur action.
"We can't have more fish kills, that can't happen," Miller said. "If there
are further fish kills this spring, we'll probably go to court."#
Byron Leydecker, JcT
Chair, Friends of Trinity River
PO Box 2327
Mill Valley, CA 94942-2327
415 383 4810 land/fax (call first to fax)
415 519 4810 mobile
<mailto:bwl3 at comcast.net> bwl3 at comcast.net
<mailto:bleydecker at stanfordalumni.org> bleydecker at stanfordalumni.org
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