The State Water Resources Control Board (“Board”) held a workshop last week on a proposed regulation designed to assess and mitigate water use from the Russian River by growers in Mendocino and Sonoma Counties during frost season. Though no formal action took place, the Board received numerous comments on the proposed regulation.
The regulation would add Section 862 to the California Code of Regulations establishing that any water diversion from the subject area from March 15 to May 15 not in accordance with a Board-approved Water Demand Management Program (“WDMP”) would be deemed unreasonable. This includes the pumping of hydraulically connected groundwater, but excludes diversions upstream of the Warm Springs and Coyote Dams.
In addition, the new regulation would require the WDMP to include:
· An inventory of the frost diversion systems within the area subject to the WDMP
· A stream stage monitoring program
· Annual assessment of potential risks to salmonids from frost diversions
· Identification and implementation of any corrective actions deemed necessary to protect salmonids
· Annual reporting of the WDMP
The workshop was heavily attended by stakeholders from both government and industry and included a presentation of the projected cost of the proposed regulation. The draft economic report, available here, states that the average cost for those diverters in Mendocino County not requiring corrective actions would be $105.86 per acre in initial capital outlay and $28.50 per acre in annual costs; for Sonoma County, those numbers would be $59.98 and $18.74, respectively. For a 40-acre vineyard in Mendocino, this puts the total cost at $4,234 for initial capital outlay and $1,140 in annual costs; for Sonoma County, these numbers would be $2,399 and $749, respectively.
A common theme from the Board and the audience was that several important terms in the proposed regulation had yet to be satisfactorily defined. Chairman Hoppin, himself a farmer, repeatedly stated his hope that both sides would strive for a balance between protecting species and the water needs of farmers.
Several commentators expressed a need for the Board to address the permitting of offstream storage (i.e., storage ponds) as a tool to help address Russian River overdraft. Chairman Hoppin assured the audience that steps needed to be taken in this arena and that it was on the Board’s radar.
Formal rulemaking and the program’s environmental report are expected in mid-May, with final regulations in place by March 2012.