Russian River

Property Owners Association

An environmentally sensitive stewardship organization
protecting river, tributary and watershed property rights

April 24, 2013 - Farmers work to protect grapes, river levels

By Steve Adler

Photo/Steven Knudsen

Sonoma County winegrape grower Al Cadd checks on new growth in his winegrape  vineyard. The young shoots are susceptible to frost damage at this stage of growth.

Winegrape growers within the Russian River watershed came through the first night of freezing temperatures with flying colors last week, as  their sprinkler diversions for frost protection of vulnerable spring  vine growth resulted in very little drop in river flow levels.

The issue involves farmers in Mendocino and Sonoma counties, who  occasionally use sprinkler systems to protect grapes and pears from  frost, and state and federal regulators who say the frost-protection  measures pull too much water from the Russian River and its tributaries, thereby endangering protected salmon and steelhead.

"We had our first real frost event so far this year, and while it was not a large-magnitude event, it was an awesome first opportunity for us to really check everything that we put in place. I was super thrilled  with the outcome," said Sean White, manager of the Russian River Flood  Control District in Mendocino County.

Farmers in the watershed have taken a number of steps in response to  concerns about river levels, such as installing wind machines and  creating offstream ponds to use for frost protection, rather than  drawing water directly from the river during a frost.

White said frost-protection activities last week created what  amounted to an insignificant change in river flows on the Russian River, even though an estimated 70 percent of winegrape growers had turned on  their sprinklers to protect vines from freezing temperatures.

The practice of using sprinklers to provide a protective covering to  new vine shoots has been at the center of a dispute that began following a series of unusually frigid nights in the spring of 2008. Government  biologists said water diversions by farmers resulted in two instances of stranding young salmon that are protected under the Endangered Species  Act.

Based upon these two instances, the biologists argued that water  diversions reduced flows in the river and its tributaries, and  extrapolated that a larger number of young salmon had also been  stranded. Those arguments led the State Water Resources Control Board to adopt a regulation in 2011 that would have severely restricted water  use for frost protection between March 15 and May 15, the months in  which grapevines emerge from winter dormancy and are most vulnerable to  frost damage.thumbnail1

The regulations would have gone into effect in March 2012, but were  stalled when Mendocino County Superior Court Judge Ann Moorman issued a  preliminary injunction delaying implementation, pending the result of a  combined trial that involved two challenges to the regulation filed by  farmers.

Since that time, Judge Moorman has issued two rulings that favored  the farmers. In her first ruling, handed down last fall, the judge  determined that the new frost-protection regulations imposed by the  State Water Resources Control Board were unconstitutional.

Then, this March, she rejected the environmental impact report that  served as the foundation for the proposed regulation. Moorman said the  EIR failed to take into account the impact on stream levels of other  Russian River water users, such as the Sonoma County Water Agency.

Devon Jones, executive director of the Mendocino County Farm Bureau,  described the two rulings as encouraging for growers in the two  counties.

"This has been very positive for us to this point, but the State  Water Resources Control Board has just filed an appeal of the Superior  Court decisions," Jones said. "Now, we have to get together and figure  out our next steps in this process."

Jones noted there was a February meeting involving winegrape growers  in the two counties to discuss the upcoming frost season. The purpose of the meeting was to remind farmers that water use restrictions remain in place despite Moorman's two rulings, and that it is important to use  water wisely.

"We want to make sure everyone understands their water use  requirements and that they keep good records and documentation, because  they still have to report it. We still have the Endangered Species Act,  so if there is a significant issue, there is still the hammer in the  toolbox to go after folks," she said.

Sonoma County winegrape grower Al Cadd, president of the Russian  River Property Owners Association, said grapevines came through the  winter in great shape, and if the weather holds, it looks like there  will be a fair crop again this year.

"Growers are using much less water now than we did years ago when we  used to overhead irrigate. When I grew apples here on the ranch, we used a lot more water than growing winegrapes. It costs money to pump the  water and we don't do it unless we have to," he said.

Sonoma County winegrape grower Pete Opatz noted that farmers in both  counties have been actively upgrading their irrigation systems, creating offstream water storage ponds and installing wind machines to address  the concerns.

"The activities that have taken place since 2008”multiple wells and  wind machines, additional storage ponds and reservoirs”have resulted in  millions of dollars' worth of frost infrastructure upgrades having been  spent by the growers. All of this is focusing on river levels," he said.

"And there has been monitoring of water levels since 2009, so not  only do we have our experiences to draw on, we have ongoing monitoring.  So we are pretty keen on what areas could be impacted with  frost-protection systems," Opatz said.

Reflecting back on all that has happened since those freezing nights  in the spring of 2008, Jones stressed that, "We want to be able to  continue to farm, but we want to sustain the fisheries as well."

White agreed, commenting that "the legal fight was never what we  wanted. What we wanted to do was fix the problem, not litigate it."

(Steve Adler is associate editor of Ag Alert. He may be contacted at sadler@cfbf.com.)

Permission for use is granted, however, credit must be made to the California Farm Bureau Federation when reprinting this item.


September 27, 2012 - Vineyard Frost Protection Rules Tossed!

Thanks to  Alan Nelson and his entire group for all the time and effort put in to the frost protection issues. This is a success for all agriculture not just those on the river.


June 12, 2012 - Al Cadd, the Man of the Russian River


For all of his 86 years, Al Cadd has lived on a bend of the Russian  River that meanders through the Alexander Valley, the  agriculturally-rich vale where his family has farmed since 1914. He  considers himself a lucky man to live in a place that not only offers  incredible natural beauty but fertile farmland that has sustained  generations of families for more than 150 years.

The Cadd family, spanning six generations in the Alexander Valley,  has produced hops, prunes and apples over the last century and, at one  time, operated a 50 cow dairy. Today, the family ranch, like most of  Alexander Valley, is planted to wine grapes that achieve world-class  eminence in the valley’s terroir.

Cadd, equal parts farmer, environmentalist, hydrologist and rural  philosopher, is a steward of the valley’s farmland and a vigilant  protector of the Russian River and its fish, believing all are  resources that must be preserved for future generations. He is committed to farming in a way that is ethical and sustainable, living the adage  that if you take care of land and water it will take care of you.

“In my heart I have always felt that we must preserve and protect  what we have so there will be something left for those who follow us,”  said Cadd, whose long and productive life is a profile in healthy,  simple living on land he loves. He and his wife of 65 years, Alyce Cadd, who shares her husband’s passion for fishing, live in a two-story ranch house built by his grandfather in 1919.

Cadd’s dedication to farmland preservation and his long tenure as  keeper of the Russian River have earned him Sonoma County Farm Bureau’s 2012 Luther Burbank Conservation Award. The award recognizes Cadd’s  stewardship and environmental ethic at a time when those values are  such an important part of the public pact.

Cadd Vineyard 

“Al is a man with a passion about the environment, protecting  nature’s steams and farmland. His commitment has helped make Sonoma  County a better place to live and enjoy life,” said grape grower Jim  Murphy of Murphy Family Vineyards in the Alexander Valley. Murphy grew  up on his family’s ranch, which is across the road from the Cadd  homestead. Over the years, Murphy has come to appreciate and value  Cadd’s worth ethic, honesty and integrity as a neighboring farmer and  conservationist.

Cadd will be honored at Sonoma County Farm Bureau’s Love of the Land celebration on July 19 at Richard’s Grove and Saralee’s Vineyard at  3575 Slusser Road in Windsor.  Also being honored are Art Lafranchi, a  Santa Rosa rancher and attorney, who is being inducted into the Sonoma  County Farm Bureau Hall of Fame and sheep ranchers Rex and Kerry  Williams of Sebastopol who have been named Farm Bureau’s Farm Family  of the Year. The Love of the Land dinner and celebration is a public  event, open to anyone who wants to celebrate the land and people that  define Sonoma County’s agricultural heritage. Ticket information is  available by contacting the Farm Bureau office at 544-5575.

Except for the two years he was in the U.S. Maritime Service  following his graduation from Healdsburg High School in 1944, Cadd has  lived and farmed in the Alexander Valley while taking an active role in  protecting the valley and the Russian River. He and his wife Alyce  raised their two children, Larry and Cynthia, on the family ranch.

Long ago, Cadd and other farmers formed the Alexander Valley  Association to keep the valley in agriculture, beating back creeping  subdivision and preserving it as a rural treasure. Today, the Alexander  Valley is the picture postcard image of Wine Country.

For the last 15 years, Cadd served as president of the Russian River Valley Property Owners Association, a leader in the river’s  restoration.  Earlier in his life Cadd worked for the Sonoma County  Flood Control, a job that not only honed his natural interest in water  but expanded his knowledge of water management and hydrological  principles.

“Al has been a leader of the Russian River Property owners who have  funded stream and well monitoring in Alexander Valley with a goal of  preserving grape growing while protecting threatened or endangered  steelhead and salmon,” said Nick Frey, president of the Sonoma County  Winegrape Commission.

Cadd recently stepped down as president of the Russian River  Property Owners because of the increased time demands for collecting  vital information about waterways and wells in the Alexander Valley.  For the last four years, Cadd has been monitoring stream flows in the  Russian River and its tributaries, gathering data about the impacts of  pumping water in early spring for frost protection in vineyards.  He  said the scientific data that he has collected proves that farmers are  not harming fish by using river water to protect their vines from spring frost.

Cadd Inside 

From March 15 to May 15, Cadd and his son Larry Cadd, who runs the  family vineyards, monitor water levels. They place four gauges in the  main stem of the Russian River and additional gauges in three of the  river’s tributaries. The gauges are linked by USB cables to a computer, which collects the data for analysis. The information is being  provided to the California State Water Resources Board.

“The data shows that water used for frost protection is not  instantaneously lowering the stream flow. We hope this information  convinces the powers that be that we are not hurting the fish in the  Russian River and its tributaries in the Alexander Valley.” said Cadd.

Cadd’s prevailing philosophy is “balance” in the use of land and  resources, like water. He believes farming and fish can both survive in the Alexander Valley. Balance also becomes an issue in the battles  over gravel mining of the Russian River.  He said judicious gravel  mining is beneficial to the River and the people who live along its  banks.

“My feeling is that there is room for conservation, agriculture and  gravel mining,” said Cadd, who has supported regulated gravel mining.  “Leaving the River go wild is as bad as over-mining it.”

Cadd believes the Russian River is a clean as it was when he was  growing up and spending his time fishing from its banks. One thing has  changed, however, and that’s the number of people who are at the river  for recreation and relaxation, especially on weekends.

“It’s really changed. When I was a kid I would go down to the river  and dream of meeting someone there,” said Cadd. ”Now it’s like Coney  Island with people running up and down the River.”

reprinted from the Sonoma County Farm Bureau