A proposal last week from state water regulators continues to push for the creation of a watchdog body with the power to halt vineyard water diversions to protect endangered fish in the Russian River. The regulators also seek to gain access to reports on how much water individual growers take from the river and its tributaries each spring for frost protection. The proposals have drawn mixed reactions from growers in the region.

On freezing spring nights, the growers spray water over their grapevines to freeze the green buds in ice, which keeps the plant tissue safe at a constant 32-degree temperature. According to federal officials, water diversions in 2008 and 2009 for frost protection stranded and killed salmon and steelhead in the river. State regulators reacted by proposing the watchdog group, which they say is needed to regulate diversion from the river.

This past winter, Sonoma County tried instituting its own program to record and make public how much water each farmer was taking from the river, but many growers balked at the proposal. Federal fisheries officials responded by accusing the growers of going back on their earlier word to support the reporting program, and renewing support for the watchdog group.

The state Water Resources Control Board will meet on April 6 in Sacramento to review the latest proposal for regulating water diversions in the region. The latest proposal would set new rules in place by March 15, 2012.


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