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Wine Grapes and Water Usage - Sonoma County Tributaries Impact


Wine Grapes, Water Usage and the Effects on Our Natural Environment

by Ann Maurice

One Acre of Grapes in 24 hours of Frost Protection Uses as Much Water as a Household Uses in More than One Year

by Ann Maurice

Creeks dried up? Salmon and Steelhead dead and dying? What to do?

An outrageous amount of water is sucked up out of the ground for frost protection of vineyards. This practice has no business here. Begin attacking the de-watering problem by curtailing the biggest and most unreasonable waste of water in the “critical” watersheds:Dutch Bill, Green Valley, Atascadero, Mill and Mark West Creeks.

First: The State Water Resources Control Board (SWRCB) needs to abandon or rescind their mis-directed, poorly written and controversial new regulation targeting rural residents’ minimal water use and instead allocate staff time now to stop one of the most massive and unreasonable water diversions, and engage growers and the public regarding alternatives to water for frost protection in vineyards as an emergency matter.

How much water will be saved? Typically, sprinklers apply 52 gallons per minute per acre! WOW! That’s 74,880 gallons in just 24 hours on just ONE acre! How much water do you use? Let’s say 200 gallons per day per household X 365 days in a year. That equals 73,000 gallons. (You probably use much less) So, ONE ACRE of vineyard, in 24 hours of frost control uses more water than a household uses in one full YEAR!! And that’s just on ONE single acre, ONE single frosty day! We’ve got thousands of acres of vineyards using water for frost protection and frost events last longer than a day! Any wonder the ground water is depleted? This has got to stop!

And the SWRCB is not treating this matter as an emergency? Just telling you to turn off your “fountains”, and water your lawn at night? Come on, now, let’s get real!

Second: The SWRCB must require vintners to have alternative frost protection plans in place by February 1st of 2016 in preparation for next year’s frost season; the SWRCB and County must vigorously promote and provide incentives, well in advance, for properties where wind will work so that adequate fans are available for purchase or rental for next year’s frost season, March 15 - May 15; identify and explore additional methods for frost control such as those used for generations in Europe. NOW is the time to prepare for March!

Third: The SWRCB must BAN water for frost protection. (Do they have the authority? YES!)

Fourth: The County must impose a moratorium on new irrigated vineyards in the critical watersheds and provide incentives for planting and re-planting of frost-resistant varietals and “dry-farming”, and no new acreage in vines needing frost protection!

Fifth: You must use your power as a consumer to inquire about land use practices next time you take visitors wine tasting. Take yourself and your friends to “dry-farmed” vineyards. Ask about dry-farming and frost-protection. Let the wineries know that you noticed, care, support dry farming and alternatives to the ridiculous practice of drenching vineyards to protect against frost events. Select dry-farmed wines and wines not using water for frost protection for your table.

Sixth: Ask local markets to create a “dry-farmed” wine section next to “organic” and “bio-dynamic”. Ask for a section for wines using “no water for frost protection” too. Then buy accordingly!

Local creeks naturally produce salmon if we allow them to flow. If pesticide spray rigs back away from over-spraying stream banks and waterways, insects will thrive. When water and insects return, so will the salmon. This is not rocket science, folks. It’s your ABCs. Each female salmon carries over 3000 eggs. They’ve faced natural catastrophes worse than us many times before and will re-colonize the creeks as soon as word gets out that we’ve changed our ways and actually want them here….


This society has only a 150-year track record in Sonoma County. Coho and Steelhead have thousands of years of experience in these watersheds. Which one of us has survivability? Which is ultimately sustainable -- salmon or irrigated, frost-protected drenched vineyards? 

The smart money’s on the Coho.