The California Water Resources Control Board’s newly enacted regulations to deal with frost protection in the Russian River Watershed are being challenged in court.  A coalition of growers in the region, called the Russian River Water Users for the Environment, along with four individual growers, filed suit in the Sacramento County Superior Court claiming the regulations are unconstitutionally overbroad and that they don’t take into account measures already voluntarily adopted by growers to protect salmon and steelhead populations.

The rules, which were adopted late last month, are intended to protect the salmon and steelhead by placing restrictions on the growers’ practice of spraying their vines with water for frost protection. When temperatures drop below freezing, the growers pump water from the Russian River  to keep the vines at 32 degrees. Federal officials from the National Marine Fisheries Service said that when growers removed water from the river for frost protection in 2008 and 2009 they stranded and killed salmon and steelhead. The plaintiffs say there were only two isolated incidents, and that the regulations go well beyond addressing these concerns.

The new regulations require growers who engage in this type of frost protection between March 15 and May 15 to submit a water management plan to the state or to be part of a larger water plan developed by a “governing body”. The plans are due at the beginning of February, and opponents argue that if the plans are rejected, there will be little time to come up with a solution before the frost comes. Others are working on alternative frost protection methods; the group Trout Unlimited has been working with growers to create off-stream storage pond to pump from and installing fans to prevent frost. They lauded the passage of a bill that streamlined the permitting process for such ponds earlier this month.

Case information can be found through the Superior Court of Sacramento County, case number 2011-80000984.


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