Vineyards Want Russian River Water

By Matt Baume
|  Saturday, Nov 13, 2010  |  Updated 3:54 PM PDT
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Vineyards Want Russian River Water

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North Bay vineyards want access to Russian River water. There's just one problem: fish need it more.

Sonoma County has been working with grape-growers to draft a plan to siphon water from the river. That water would be sprayed on leaves to prevent frost during sub-freezing temperatures. A protective coating of ice will prevent deadly frost. Compared to piping in potable, municipally treated water, it's far cheaper and easier to use the water from the river.

But the environmental challenges are numerous. The system would require meticulous monitoring of the flow of water to prevent damage to fish populations. It's currently unclear how the proposal, which is currently just in draft status, would monitor water levels. Critics are demanding that more details be worked out before the plan is approved.

Over the last two years, the practice has resulted in significant fish-kills, affecting salmon and trout. That's a violation of the Endangered Species Act. Vineyards say that they've addressed the problems that caused the fish to die, but regulators are unconvinced and want stronger enforcement authority.

Some proposed methods to monitor water level would fall far short of what's needed. Although gauges could be installed along the river, their data would be unavailable in real-time and can't be accessed quickly enough to make a difference for the current year.

Environmental advocates have also expressed skepticism regarding the panel that would oversee the program. Although no growing-industry representatives would serve on the panel, it's unclear how transparent the panel's work would be.

It's possible that these obstacles can all be overcome. But as it stands now, the draft proposal doesn't come close to addressing them.

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