On Tuesday, the Sonoma County Board of Supervisors unanimously passed an ordinance creating a plan designed to protect both vineyard frost protection measures and endangered species in the Russian River. After nearly a year of negotiations, the Board added Section 11B to the County Code, creating a registration program for grapegrowers and plan to assess water use practices for frost protection by utilizing over 100 gauges placed throughout the watershed. Information on usage will be presented to the Board on a yearly basis and will be used to potentially mitigate effects of diversions on a real-time basis.

The move to create a program started when Federal officials informed the California State Water Resources Control Board (State Board) that overuse of water from the Russian River and its tributary, Felta Creek, for frost protection was negatively impacting endangered Coho and Chinook salmon and steelhead smelt. Officials from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration stated that continued overuse and endangerment could result in a ‘take’ under Section 9(a)(1) of the Federal Endangered Species Act, subjecting those responsible to fines and penalties.


The adopted program will be supervised by Sonoma County and includes a scientific review panel. The ordinance provides that the gauges will be overseen by an entity comprised of members of the grapegrowing community. The State Board had rejected an earlier proposal by grapegrowers to voluntarily adopt preventative measures, demanding there be some method to “…kick out bad actors.” On October 27, 2010, the State Board published a Notice of Preparation of an Environmental Impact Report (EIR) and Public Scoping Meeting for their own proposed regulations applicable to the grapegrowers diverting from the Russian River watershed. The State’s plan would cover water diverted for frost protection from the Russian River in Sonoma and Mendocino Counties and hydraulically connected groundwater.


Section 11B creates a mandatory registration program for all Sonoma county grapegrowers. Growers will be required to register with the County Agricultural Commissioner starting in mid-January, 2011 and running through March 1, 2011. Failure to comply could subject violators to fines ranging from $500-$1,000. The Board of Supervisors will vote on a fee schedule for the program in January.