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Turning Vineyards Into Mega-Leachfields


Turning Vineyards Into Mega-Leachfields

by Ann Maurice

Rather than using less water due to low rainfall and the “drought”,  some folks advocate switching over from groundwater to treated municipal wastewater for irrigation needs -- surprisingly even advocating wastewater irrigation on Sonoma County premium grapes in the Russian River, Alexander Valley and Dry Creek Appellations.

What do you think about turning vineyards into leachfields? Dripping daily with gallons of treated municipal wastewater, leachfields is what vineyards would in fact be! 

Will vintners hide that from their customers or announce openly that their vines are irrigated with wastewater from the local municipal treatment plant?  Do you foresee a public relations, advertising disclosure, and tourism nightmare in the making and damage to the reputation of  the Sonoma County wine industry? Failures and slip-ups and illegalities are inevitable.  Who would be responsible for damage and the clean-up?

Some claim that the public is just misinformed and irrationally afraid of treated wastewater. But we know that popular pharmaceuticals like Lipitor and Propranolol persist even after tertiary treatment. Heavy metals and nitrates can persist too, and in general, out of the thousands of chemical endocrine mimics, endocrine disruptors, “gender benders” and new compounds formed by interactions between them, municipalities only test for a handful. 

The State Water Board and the Governor warn us about depleted groundwater. Water conservation is now mandatory. Would Sacramento  reduce or eliminate riparian rights to further control groundwater then force us and agriculture to use municipal wastewater on our properties all in the name of saving the coho? 

We live in a  Mediterranean climate where it does not rain in the growing season. Grapes, olives, almonds and citrus are “Mediterranean crops” meaning that they all evolved in a climate typical of “Mediterranean countries”. They all grow happily and productively without summertime irrigation. So why are they irrigated? It’s simple! To get more tons per acre. Since the product is sold by the ton, more tonnage means more money. But at what cost -- to our health, the crops, the land and sustainability?

An alternative to the irrigation treadmill? Reduce dramatically the agricultural industry’s  use of water in the Russian River watershed. Encourage re-planting of vineyards for “dry-farming”. Stop the permitting of new irrigated vineyards in the so-called critical areas. Stop the unreasonable use of massive amounts of ground and creek water for vineyard frost protection. Check out dry-farmed vineyards in the County and be delighted by the wine’s aroma and complexity. Many vineyards are already weaning their vines off of drip irrigation altogether and getting lower yields but much higher quality.