Grape Growing Collides With Fish Protection in California

Jason Dearen
Associated Press
January 29, 2010

Healdsburg, Calif. (AP) – Grape growers in Northern California’s cool, fertile Sonoma County wine region are stomping mad at a new plan to limit the amount of water vineyards can pump from local rivers and streams to protect crops from frost — a proposed regulation meant to safeguard coho salmon, a species on the brink of local extinction.

Vineyard acreage in Sonoma County, adjacent to the Napa Valley, has increased 30 to 40 percent during the past decade and the county estimates the businesses generate about $2 billion annually.

But the growth has run up against federal protections for coho salmon, an endangered species that once filled streams and rivers along California’s central and northern coasts.

When hibernating vines are coming to life in the spring, temperatures can still drop below freezing overnight and destroy young grapes. During those frigid nights, growers spray river water onto the vines, encasing them in a protective frozen shell.

Farmers say one bad night when temperatures quickly drop 5 to 10 degrees below freezing could wipe out huge percentages of their crop.

“Down here in the bottom, if we don’t have the water, it’s not going to get it done,” said vineyard manager Paul Foppiano, standing in a low-lying field of pinot noir vines near the Russian River. Sprinklers hovered over the gnarled vines in a part of his family’s 140 acres, which have been producing wine in Sonoma County since 1896…

…At issue is the continued existence of the hook-mouthed coho salmon and the threatened steelhead trout that spawn in coastal streams and rivers — a habitat that stretches from Alaska to central California. While coho still thrive in Alaska, their once plentiful stocks in California and Oregon are under threat, federal fisheries managers say…

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