Frosted Vineyard Threat Makes for Tough Call

It's fish versus grapes in wine country.

By Matt Baume
|  Wednesday, Dec 8, 2010  |  Updated 2:26 PM PDT
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A NorCal Retreat With an Exotic Edge

Frost free grape crops could be bad news for salmon.

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The good news is that vineyards have gained some extra protection against frost. The bad news is that it might come at the expense of salmon.

For years, North Bay vineyards have sought to pump the Russian River, spraying the water over their crops to prevent deadly frost during the coldest months. It's much cheaper than using municipal water.

The problem is that demand outstripped supply, and early attempts to use the water cause the river to drop to dangerous levels. Salmon and steelhead were stranded and died in both 2008 and 2009.

A new plan to monitor water levels has won unanimous approval from Sonoma County Supervisors. Under the plan, around 100 water gauges would be installed along the river.

But it's unclear how effective that will be. Only a small amount of data from the gauges will be publicly available, and a recent report was vague on enforcement mechanisms. Environmentalists admit that it's better than the current complete lack of oversight, but want more specifics on how the plan will actually work.

It's also unclear who would pay for the expensive gauges, as well as their maintenance and monitoring.

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