Vineyard and orchard owners in the Russian River Watershed will face heightened regulations of the water they divert for frost protection next spring. The California State Water Resources Control Board voted yesterday to approve new rules that have been under development and the subject of heated debate for two years. The move to regulate has pitted growers who spray their crops with water to protect from spring frost against groups hoping to restore the Russian River salmon and steelhead runs.

Starting in February, growers will be required to participate in a new demand management program that will track their diversions for frost protection, track stream flows, and relay that information to the Board and other state and federal agencies. Officials say that spikes in diversions during cold snaps have caused sharp drops in stream levels, leading to fish kills in recent years. Some growers denied the diversions caused the fish kills, but they also instituted several voluntary efforts to reduce the effects, in hopes that the state would drop its plan to adopt new regulations. County officials in Mendocino also said the regulations were unwarranted, claiming that local efforts had eliminated the need for state intervention.

Growers and county officials argue that it will impose unnecessary costs as well; a state board study estimated that individual growers in Sonoma County would see cost increases of about $19 per acre for annual operations and $60 per acre annually for capital expenditures. The figures for Mendocino County were estimated at about $29 and $106, respectively. Sonoma County already adopted a frost ordinance last January that officials say is likely to cover the initial requirements of the regulations.

For more information, visit the State Water Resources Control Board website.


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