The Sonoma County Board of Supervisors recently adopted the final measures for moving ahead with the County’s Frost Protection Program (the “Program”). This final act was merely a carry-over from the February 8 meeting where the Board adopted the fee structure for the Program and extended the time frame for implementation of the Program until 2012, citing unforeseen difficulties in negotiations with certain stakeholders.
Under the new Section 11B of the County Code, the Program will be used to gather information on vineyard and orchard water usage in the Russian River Watershed. Creation of the program started after complaints were made by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service that frost protection measures that use water from the Russian River Watershed were causing the death of certain protected salmonid species. The federal agency threatened to take action under the Endangered Species Act if the County did nothing. The County moved to create the Program ahead of State action, which is expected to occur in the next 12-18 months.
The Program will use over 100 gages to measure water levels at certain points in the watershed. Implementation of the Program was originally designed to take place in time for the 2011 frost season. However, County staff informed the Board at the February 8 meeting that two hurdles had sprung up that would delay actual implementation until the frost season of 2012. The first was a seemingly 11th-hour move by certain vineyard stakeholders to not back the program due to concerns of the public nature of the information gathered. The second was the negotiations over the issue of indemnification between the County and the non-profit organization created to assist in the implementation.
While a delay in implementation to the 2012 frost season was acceptable to the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, it was stated that any further delay would require action on the part of the agency. One Board member suggested that, due to the delay, the Board consider scrapping the Program and creating a fully voluntary concept. This idea was not acceptable to the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and was quickly discarded.
Vineyards and orchards within the Program’s umbrella must register with the County Agricultural Commission annually between January 1 and March 1. This year’s registration must occur by June 1. The fee set for the Program is $64.00 per site. This fee will be assessed annually with the required registration. The County estimates there are some 360 sites within the Program’s boundaries.
The Program will have to conform to any future State action regarding the Russian River Watershed. However, the Board was confident that the Program would meet with acceptance at the State level.