Wednesday, June 10, 2015

Sonoma Wine Grape Growers Seminar, Part 2: Streams, Pesticides, Drought Issues - Government Officials Tell It Like It Is

Sonoma wine grape growers face new state regulations on water issues and on pesticides used near schools, state and county officials told growers Friday. Officials spoke to several hundred growers at the Sonoma Wine Grape Growers Annual Seminar held at Shone Farm in Forestville.

Sonoma County Ag Commissioner Tony Linegar updated the group on new county guidelines on riparian corridor management designed to protect streams. "There is no removal of vegetation from 200 feet from the top of the bank for new plantings," Linegar stated. Existing vines are grandfathered in, he said.

Sonoma County Ag Commissioner Tony Linegar
Linegar defended growers against complaints from some Sonoma residents who don't like the wine industry. "I've worked in three counties," he said, "and even with wine grapes, we're still very diversified. We've got a $100 million dairy industry and a $30 million nursery industry."

"I ask people, tell me what crop uses less water and pesticides and has a greater return per acre to the farmer than wine grapes," he said. "I'm all ears." The crowd reacted with spontaneous applause.

"We're the last real agricultural county in the Bay Area," he said.

Linegar provided an update on the issue of schools and pesticides, outlining his opposition to recent developments at the California Dept. of Public Health and California Dept. of Pesticide Regulation.

Linegar said he disagreed with the data in the California Dept. of Public Health 2014 report on schools and pesticide exposure.

The report did not cover Sonoma County, but zeroed in on counties with the highest rates of pesticide application, primarily in the Central Valley. Ventura County was the county with the most school children located near agricultural pesticide applications.

In response, State Sen. Hannah-Beth Jackson, who represents Ventura County, in 2014 put forward legislation SB1411, that would give agricultural commissioners the authority to prohibit pesticide application within a quarter mile of a school.

The bill failed, but Linegar said the California Dept. of Pesticide Regulation was now expected to issue new regulations and would soon be holding public hearings around the state on this issue.

"I fought tooth and nail against this," said Linegar.

A calendar for the first round of hearings has been published and is available on the CDPR web site. No North Coast sites have yet been included in the calendar.

On a more positive note, Linegar said the European Grapevine Moth (EGVM) was not found in Sonoma and by 2016 could be out of quarantine. "Chilé lost the battle," he said, "and they will be spraying and managing for this pest forever, which increases their costs." In addition, he said, all Chilean blueberries and plums now had to be fumigated before being imported into the U.S.

Researchers are still investigating pathways that brought the EGVM into the U.S. "We're looking at equipment as a potential pathway from Europe," he said.

Linegar warned that the stink bug, already established in California - in Los Angeles and Sacramento - could affect vineyards. "It has the potential to mess with wine grapes," he said. "It's a pretty serious pest. It's already beyond eradication in California, so we'll be monitoring for it."

Dr. Thomas Harter, of U.C. Davis
Groundwater expert Dr. Thomas Harter, of U.C. Davis, spoke on the new Groundwater Sustainability Management Act and how it will affect grape growers.

"Where this drought is different from previous droughts," Harter explained, "is that cumulative precipitation over the last 14 years has been low. In the last 14 years, only 4 years were at or above average levels." He said the last four years had been the driest since the 1920's.

"Groundwater levels are lower than they have ever been before," he said, "as the consequence of groundwater overdrafts."

Harter compared subsidence risks in Sonoma and the Central Valley. "In Sonoma, we see about 0.1 to 0.2 inches of subsidence, which is arrested now, " he said. "Sonoma is nothing like the Central Valley where there was 6-12 inches of subsidence in this year alone."

Harter provided a detailed view of the recent legislation on water which describes a three step process that will be implemented locally to manage groundwater. Phase 1 calls for the establishment of local Groundwater Sustainability Agencies for each basin that is a medium or high priority. Phase 2 requires the local agencies to make a Groundwater Sustainability Plan. And Phase 3 requires the plan implementation.

"The goal is transparency, transparency, transparency," he said. "If locals don't manage the groundwater well, the state will step in."

Harter pointed to Santa Clara county as a success story where groundwater recharge was successfully accomplished through county action.

Asked about groundwater monitoring techniques, Harter said the remote sensing of satellite technology has a critical role in understanding subsidence, which can be measured within a few millimeters of accuracy. "Aircraft and satellites are better suited to measuring consumptive water use, but they may only be accurate to within 1-10 percent.

"Satellites are good at understanding groundwater fluctuations for large regions like the Central Valley but not as effective for Sonoma Valley," he said. "We have to be monitoring existing wells to better understand the local impacts."

The last two speakers on the agenda were Andrew Hughan, public information officer for California Dept. of Fish and Wildlife and Dee Dee D'Adamo of the State Water Resources Control Board.

Hughan is currently overseeing media outreach on the drought in coastal communities and is focused on the plight of salmon. "Sonoma is one of the big three," he said, "with Oroville and Shasta as the other two."

"Sonoma is in a State of Emergency. Everyone helps," he said. "This is about your land, your water, your fish."

"The Russian River is the number one priority right now," he said. "And I'm here today to ask for your help. We'd like access to your land to save the fish when fish rescues are needed."

"We're not asking for any reduction in water use on crops," he said. "We are asking wineries to sign Voluntary Drought Agreements. What that says is that you agree to stop watering ornamentals and not to wash cars and sidewalks."

"Fish rescues are not an excuse for regulatory access," he said. "We just want to rescue the fish."

Andrew Hughan, California Dept. of Fish and Wildlife
Hugh said water regulation is coming, but there may be preferential treatment given at that time to those who sign voluntary agreements. "Plus," he said, "you'll get great media attention. I have reporters every day calling me for drought stories. It's national news. Sign a voluntary agreement, and write "Media OK" and we'll tell the media about you. You could be on national television."

Hughan's accompanying slide showed logos from major media broadcasters including CNN and social media outlets Facebook and YouTube.

Dee Dee D'Adamo from the State Water Resources Control Board, the final speaker at the seminar, represents Central Valley agricultural interests on the state agency, but is originally from Napa, where she grew up as the daughter of wine grape growers.

"We are looking for voluntary agreements, whereever possible," she told the growers. "This is a critical situation. The voluntary agreements are one way to help."

"Some of the challenges that we face are that we don't understand all that's going on in the water system," she said.

D'Adamo said a new regulatory package would be released this week.

"Several wineries have participated in voluntary activities," she said," including Gallo and Jackson Family Wines and about 20 landowners who have signed voluntary agreements. We have to get those numbers up. Voluntary actions will avoid curtailments."

"When people look at the news and they see that urban areas are being asked to reduce consumption by 25%, or even as much as 38%, they say, 'how come ag isn't doing more?'"

Haghan said growers and wineries will be able to put on their web site that they signed a voluntary agreement.

The state is also beefing up enforcement on water diversions, Haghan said, saying that 15 new positions have been created to enforce the law against marijuana growers'  water diversion. "We've got 340 wardens and 50 percent of the are on marijuana enforcement this summer," he said.

In answer to a question from an audience member asking why the state hadn't increased water storage, D'Adamo said, "there are no silver bullets. Desalinization, conservation, storage - we need all of them."

"We are in a new normal - climate change - and there will be more droughts, followed by flooding. Recharging our aquifers will be beneficial."

Speaking during the following Q and A, Katie Jackson, Family Representative of Government Relations and Community Outreach at Jackson Family Wines, said, "It's better for growers to cooperate and collaborate to get around the need for requirements. A voluntary agreement can exempt you from a conservation order. Everyone wants to keep curtailment on the back burner."

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