Courts Postpone Russian River Frost Protection Rules – For Now

Grape growers in the Russian River watershed were granted at least temporary relief from controversial new frost protection regulations earlier this month.  The regulations, originally due to be enforced starting March 15, were postponed by a Mendocino County judge pending the outcome of a trial on the merits set for March 23.  A similar action was filed in Sonoma County, but a Sacramento judge has ruled that the cases should be consolidated and the Sonoma County case moved to the Mendocino court.  The regulations affect growers in parts of Mendocino and Sonoma counties who draw water for frost protection from the Russian River, its tributaries, or from groundwater sources pumped within the Russian River watershed that are hydraulically connected to the Russian River stream system.
Under the new law, each grower is required to submit a water management plan to the State Water Resources Control Board (SWRCB) by Feb 1 or join a larger water management plan.  Growers who fail to do so would be prohibited from spraying vines for frost protection between March 15 and May 15.  Those who are part of an approved water management plan must submit data reflecting the days when water was used for frost protection, the acres protected and hours of use.
The purpose of the legislation is to prevent “stranding mortality” of endangered salmonids along the Russian River.  Stranding mortality is believed to occur when the levels of water in the river rapidly decline, leaving the fish stranded.  Regulatory agencies have identified frost protection measures by grape growers involving overhead sprinklers as a primary cause of stranding mortality.
The legislation is controversial.  Growers view compliance with the regulations as unnecessarily expensive and burdensome, and argue that they are already taking the necessary steps to prevent stranding mortality without the need for regulation forcing them to do so.  Adding to the controversy is the fact that many growers view the evidence supporting the need for the legislation as tenuous at best.
The SWRCB has urged growers to voluntarily comply with the new regulations despite the Mendocino court’s ruling.  With the restricted frost protection season rapidly approaching and the status of the regulations uncertain, growers are left in limbo for the time being.
For more information on the legislation or assistance with other grower issues, please contact Dickenson, Peatman & Fogarty at [email protected] .
Copyright Dickenson Peatman & Fogarty at www.lexvini.com
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Topics: Land Use