April 24, 2013 - Farmers work to protect grapes, river levels
By Steve Adler
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.
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 2008â€”multiple wells and wind machines, additional storage ponds and reservoirsâ€”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 firstname.lastname@example.org.)
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,”€ť 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.
“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.€ť 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.
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.”€ť 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,”€ť said Cadd, who has supported regulated gravel mining. â€śLeaving the River go wild is as bad as over-mining it.â€ť
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,”€ť said Cadd. ”Now it’s like Coney Island with people running up and down the River.”
reprinted from the Sonoma County Farm Bureau