Andrew Adams, WINES & VINES
The Feb. 1 deadline has been pushed back a few times because of various legal challenges, but this year growers who use water for frost protection near the Russian River in Mendocino and Sonoma counties will need to make sure they’re in compliance with a state-mandated water-use plan.
The required plan, known officially as a “water demand management plan” or WDMP, stems from an incident in 2008 when several juvenile salmon were found dead or stranded in pools of water along the banks of the river during a record-setting dry and cold period in March. Biologists with the National Marine Fisheries Services extrapolated from the number of fish that had been found that several thousand had died in total. Officials blamed a sudden drop in the height of the river to growers drawing water to protect their vines during a severe frost event.
Despite growers taking steps to minimize the risk to fish in the advent of another severe frost, the state Water Board moved forward with adopting a management plan in 2011. The plan stipulated that if growers were going to use water in the Russian River watershed for frost protection from March 15 through May 15 they’d have to do so in compliance with the new plan that required monitoring of the Russian River’s main channel flow and water level as well as its tributaries. Plan administrators are required to work with fish agencies to determine areas of particular risk to fish stranding, notify growers when rainfall and flow conditions could increase these risks as well as prepare annual risk assessment reports.
A few growers responded with lawsuits, and implementation of the new regulations stalled as the legal challenges wound their way through the courts. On Oct. 1, 2014, the California State Supreme Court ruled in favor of the State Water Board, and growers had to make plans to comply.