Wine Industry Water Grab?

July 31, 2015 · Will Parrish The AVA

California’s slow-mo adoption of groundwater regulations is prompting all sorts of legal maneuvers by the state’s irrigation elite, who are striving for the fewest restrictions on their pumps possible. In the Russian River watershed, from where I write this dispatch, arguably the irrigation elite’s elitist elites are the grape growers of northern Sonoma County.

Their lawyers are not resting.

State Sen. Mike McGuire (D-Healdsburg) is quietly sponsoring legislation to create a new independent special district called the Russian River Irrigation District, which would be operated of, by, and for the growers and their affiliated wineries, tasting rooms, and event centers.

The district would encompass much of the Russian River watershed in northern Sonoma County, and possibly a small portion of southern Mendocino County. The legislation specifically names its purview as being the Alexander Valley, Knights Valley, Dry Creek Valley, and “the territory within the portion of the Russian River Valley American Viticultural Area” and “the portion of the Russian River Valley American Viticultural Area south of River Road and Mark West Creek Road.”

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Activists see Sonoma County winegrowers’ proposed bill as a ‘water grab’

A move by Sonoma County winegrowers to form an irrigation district has alarmed environmentalists who say the proposal appears to only deal with the water needs of agriculture. (Kent Porter / PD FILE)

A move by Sonoma County winegrowers to form an irrigation district has alarmed environmentalists who say the proposal appears to only deal with the water needs of agriculture. (Kent Porter / PD FILE)

Environmentalists are mobilizing in protest of a would-be bill backed by the local wine industry that would create an irrigation district intended to protect the water rights of about 1,000 grape growers in the Russian River region.

Noting that Sonoma County is facing “urgent water supply” problems unique to the Russian River watershed, the legislation — proposed by the United Winegrowers of Sonoma County — would create a segmented district covering five viticultural areas in Alexander, Knights, Dry Creek, Russian River and Bennett valleys, which produce the county’s priciest wine grapes.

The move comes in fourth year of California’s historic drought, when competing claims for dwindling supplies and state moves to safeguard stream flows have set some rural landowners under mandatory cutbacks against grape growers who have so far faced no such restrictions.

Activists involved in the escalating debate over winery expansion and vineyards’ unlimited use of water were alarmed by a published report last month that said state Sen. Mike McGuire, D-Healdsburg, was “quietly sponsoring” the bill, and they intend to protest at McGuire’s annual town hall meeting Thursday night at the Sonoma County Board of Supervisors chambers.

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Wine Industry Impacts: Wine and Water Watch (WWW)

I began sending out my article on the founding of the Wine and Water Watch (WWW) group yesterday. It has already been published in at least the following places, which include India and Virginia. It will likely be published elsewhere in the next few days. If you google the words “wine and water watch” with my name in the coming days, you should be able to get additional links, including some of the local publications to which I have sent a shorter version.

My appreciations to those who provided critical feedback on how to improve it. I hope that some of you may make comments at those places which allow them, or at least click on “like.” That way, more articles on Big Wine will be published by those places. New Press/Nueva Prensa will soon be publishing a shorter version in both English and Spanish.
Wine & Water Watch Challenges Invasive Wine Empire,, allows comments.

Wine and Water Watch challenges Northern California wine empire, Augusta Free Press Activists objecting to the over-growth of the wine/hospitality industry in rural … they agreed to name themselves Wine and Water Watch (WWW). (Virginia) (India)

Wine and Water Watch (WWW) Challenges Northern California’s ……/shepherd-bliss/…/wine-and-water-watch-www- challenges-northern-california-s-invasive-wine-empire‎The group has studied the wine industry and criticized its …. About author Dr. Shepherd Bliss ( teaches college, farms, and …

Wine and Water Watch (WWW) Challenges Northern California’s ……/wine-and-water-watch-www-challenges-northern- californias-invasive-wine-empire/‎ by Shepherd Bliss / August 22nd, 2015 … County, one of the wine industry’s epicenters, they agreed to name themselves Wine and Water Watch (WWW)

Posted in Agriculture Impacting Water, Drinking Water issues, Environmental Impacts, Groundwater Impacts, Pesticide pollution, Salmonid/Wildlife Impacts, Streams and Wetlands Impacts, Vineyards, Water Conservation Issue, Watershed Related Concerns | Leave a comment

NASA Groundwater Subsidence Report: Drought Causing Valley Land to Sink

August 19, 2015

Maven note: 
Headline is the one issued with the press release. It should perhaps more properly be: “Groundwater Subsidence Causing Valley Land to Sink”

From the Department of Water Resources:

As Californians continue pumping groundwater in response to the historic drought, the Department of Water Resources today released a new NASA report showing land in the San Joaquin Valley is sinking faster than ever before, nearly two inches per month in some locations.

“Because of increased pumping, groundwater levels are reaching record lows—up to 100 feet lower than previous records,” said Department of Water Resources Director Mark Cowin. “As extensive groundwater pumping continues, the land is sinking more rapidly and this puts nearby infrastructure at greater risk of costly damage.”

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PPIC Report: If Drought Continues: Environment and Poor Rural Communities Most Likely to Suffer

August 19, 2015,

Urban areas in best shape; Farmers adapting but vulnerable

PPIC (Public Policy Institute of California)If the California drought continues another two to three years, the state will face increasingly acute challenges in two areas: water supply in some low-income rural communities, where wells are running dry; and ecosystems, where the state’s iconic biodiversity is under severe threat and wildfire risk is growing to new extremes. Farmers have been hit hard, but are adapting. The state’s cities and suburbs are in the best shape to withstand more years of drought, thanks to investments in diversified water supplies and improved demand-management.

These are some of the key findings of a new report released today by the PPIC Water Policy Center.

The report—which draws on wide-ranging data sources and conversations with officials, businesses, and stakeholders on the frontlines of drought management—finds that wells in some rural communities are expected to run dry at an increasing pace. As of July 2015, more than 2,000 dry wells were reported in communities that are home to some of California’s most vulnerable residents.

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Discussion on Herbicide Spraying in the Laguna de Santa Rosa

Hello Patrons and Neighbors of The Laguna,

I hope everyone is having a good week and enjoyed their weekend. I’ve been slowly settling in to Sonoma County (moved here from VA about a month ago), and am continuously amazed by all that this part of the country has to offer.

First I want to apologize for taking as long as I have to give you a full response. This is my third week on the job, and it was very important to me that I learn as much as I could about this situation before responding. In this age of 24 hr news cycles and instant internet info, I think that thoughtful conversations and important information is often lost. Therefore, I felt a belated response was better than an incomplete and/or inaccurate one. Yesterday included 4 back-to-back 2 hr meetings, so my days have been quite full J Thank you for your patience and for allowing me the time to gather some necessary info.

I have attached a FAQs piece that primarily focuses on several of the specific questions that folks have asked, and also tries to give a brief intro/summary on The Laguna Foundation’s approach to invasive exotic management. I’ve put it in pdf form simply to help keep the info together and in-context, so that if it’s shared with others it can be read in its entirety rather than cut/pasted.

I understand that some of you have larger questions than the few we have tried answering in this attachment: should herbicide be used as part of the resource management toolbox, what place does biodiversity play in modern conservation, native vs invasive exotic species, etc. These larger questions are important and worth further discussion, but so hard to accomplish via email. So we’ve tried to at least start with some basic information about invasive exotic management and our use of herbicide.

I also want to briefly address the well-written suggestions by Robert Rawsom (in the below email), just to say that I very much appreciate the time and thought that went into his ideas. There are some interesting and valuable observations there – I’m going to take this one piece at a time and start with sharing the info in the attached FAQs. One of my next steps will then be looking more closely at Mr. Rawson’s suggestions.

Lastly, we are working on improved signage and communications regarding our invasive exotic management programs, including use and locations of herbicide applications.

I see this as the start of a dialogue, not the end, and welcome further conversation – as long as you continue to be patient with my desire for thoughtful, rather than speedy replies J

Thank you again for your interest, concern and dedication to local environmental issues.


Hi Judy and Karin,
Spraying cannot control the pepper weed problem in the Laguna. I say that with good science and about 40 years of wastewater pond treatment experience behind me. This includes working with (fighting): water hyacinth, pepper weed, duck weed, red fern, all kinds of algae, equisetum, and other water weeds.

In 2000 after the Barlow Apple processing spill in the Laguna, I treated a section of the Laguna between Occidental Rd. and Highway 12 bridge with IOS-500 Bacteria for three weeks with the help of Dairyman Jim Day, and with the approval of California  Fish and Game, and Regional Water Quality Control Board. We turned that section of the Laguna below the Hwy 12 Bridge crystal clear and observed a strong temporary habitat recovery (Otter, fish, birds, crayfish). This was temporary and ended after several months after treatment discontinued, due in large part to continued upstream carbon and nutrient loading. What has occurred in the Laguna in the last 75 years, is a massive accumulation of nutrients (Phosphorous and nitrogen), the removal of shade, the addition and accumulation of organic material, and hundreds of millions of tons of phosphorous laden sediment. This has created an almost end stage eutrophication of the South fork of the Russian River (Laguna). This shallow, slow, warm environment, full of nutrients, makes the ideal habitat for Pepper Weed. Spraying Poison kills the upper portion of the weed but it is never exterminated, and without removal the cleft over material allows the current years load of fixed carbon plant residue to accumulate, and the phosphorous and nitrogen in that plant residue and accompanying soil is conserved to support the next year’s luxurious growth. Drought conditions make this worse and reduce flushing of sediment and nutrients.
What can be done?
By far, the Best Solution is Dredging to increase water depth and remove nutrients. This can be followed by planting tall shade producing trees on the sunny side of standing water to cool it and deny light to algae, by modifying the albedo. This effect can be duplicated with Aqua Marine Shadow.  Then you need a continuing harvest strategy or promote the respiration of the year’s accumulated carbon at the same rate as it is being fixed. I am reluctant to mention my own microbial product, IOS-500 because it sounds self-serving, however the Laguna has an enormous amount of fixed carbon that needs to be burned up via respiration. That means a harvest strategy of some kind is needed to respire or remove the accumulated carbon. This can be bacteria, or physical mechanical removal, or introduction of animals such as goats that will eat the carbon. Perhaps there is sufficient economic value in the nitrogen or carbon content in the weeds to make harvesting financially attractive if the regulatory agencies don’t impose excessive impediments as they have done with Sonoma Compost.

Once you have open water in the Laguna, it should be treated during the low flow summer months when it is stagnant using 1-3 PPM  of non-toxic (0 toxicity units chronic three species bioassay) Aqua Marine Shadow FDC Blue to prevent algae from replacing the Pepper Weed. This is important to maintain adequate oxygen levels, and prevent nutrient cycling, and pH fluctuations that are lethal to fish. I can provide a food grade source of Aqua- Marine Shadow.  Nancy Vaitkevicius <>
Any other chemical approach is a waste of money, and if it is a standard chemical herbicide approach like Roundup, Rodeo, 2-4-5T, Silvex, Atrazine, Telar, Diquat, or any of the other cute names they use to make these toxic poisons sound safe. At one time I held pesticide application licenses for in five categories including aquatic, Residential, food, and commercial. Poisoning the Pepper Weed will not work! The die off will only serve to continue the next year’s weed problem while poisoning the earth, our food chain, and our bodies with herbicides and their metabolic breakdown products. These things are Teratogenic, carcinogenic endocrine disruptors that have serious generational impacts, cause infertility, secondary sexual changes, in man and animal alike.

Dredging is possible to accomplish, and the Army Corp of Engineers could pay for dredging if there were a non-profit organization or legitimate government municipality or agency with the stomach to take on the administrative task. Little Graton CSD obtained 4.2 million from FEMA Cal EMA and dredged its ponds, built a flood wall and storm water diversion retention. It can be done.
Please forward.
Bob Rawson
Dear All,

I agree…the signs need to maintained, not taken down…..the label on Telar says that it can stay present in the environment for 2 years.

This is whom to call:
Discussing the many aspects of this decision and of the Pepperweed issue might be a challenge via email and social media, so I invite anyone who would like to offer suggestions or ask more questions to contact me directly. My name is Kevin Munroe and I’m the new Director of the Laguna Foundation – I both welcome and appreciate further dialogue! You can reach me at 707-527-9277, x.103. I’d love to learn from folks about any conservation concerns they may have, and look forward to talking with you.

Kevin Munroe | Executive Director

Thanks, Judy.

Unfortunately, it’s not true that the trails are only unsafe for a day or two. The half life of Telar is one to 3 months, depending on weather, with a median half life of 40 days. Four times the half life of a substance is what it takes to consider it “gone.” For Telar that’s 4 to 12 months. So taking down the signs leaves the public at risk.

Her response sounds good, but is really more public relations than solid reality.

Edward Willie, Pomo artist and permaculturist, has a deeper outlook: I am 100% against chemical warfare. For one thing it addresses the symptom not the cause of issue. The issues are disrupted ecosystems, lack of wise tending practices, ignorance of nature’s healing practices…and more.  And not to mention the lack of knowledge or education of the long term effects of the chemical.  I would say that energy should go to replanting a plant that they would deem acceptable among the pepperweed to slowly push it out.

The Northwest Center for Alternatives to Pesticides suggested a variety of other strategies, including grazing by goats, which of course can’t be used this year because of the spraying. NCAP also noted that “the Laguna Foundation revisit their selection of Telar XP for use in a wetland area. Misuse of the manufacturer’s instruction will make them legally accountable for any negative impact the herbicide might have on the area’s ecosystem.” Telar XP is not supposed to be used in wetlands, and saying that they only applied it in the “higher” areas really doesn’t cut it for an internationally recognized wetland.

I sympathize with the dilemma the Laguna Foundations folks are facing, but it’s essential that they take poisons out of their tool box.


My friend sends this message
in response to the Laguna
spraying…she’s on the Board
of the Foundation.


Dear concerned Group,

I just met with our new ED Kevin Bacon here @ my house and we had a great discussion about this very issue.  This decision was not made without researching several alternatives and herbicides and  consulting scientists and researchers.  The trails are clearly marked with terrifying signs with a scull and crossbones and are only unsafe for a couple of days so the signs very well could have been removed by now.  This decision was made because these exotic invaders have no natural predators here and are choking out our native plants.  Kevin can be reached @ ( If you have any questions or concerns he would welcome your contact.

Warmly, Ellen

I think the best people to contact about the use of Telar XP in the Laguna would be Brent Reed, Restoration Projects Supervisor ( and Wendy Trowbridge, Director of Restoration and Conservation Science Programs ( As Kevin Monroe and I talked about the difficulty of dealing with invasive species, pepperweed, he kept referring to Brent and Wendy with the implication that they have decision making authority.

I’m going to contact OAEC, Edward Willie, and NCAP (Northwest Center for Alternatives to Pesticides) for their view on dealing with pepperweed and the safety and duration of Telar. I’ll let you know what they say.


p.s. For those of you who missed our conversation at Judy’s, I talked about being shocked to discover by chance, seeing some warning photos posted by a Facebook friend, that the Laguna Foundation has sprayed Telar XP (which is not supposed to be used in wetlands) along Laguna trails. I had sent an alarmed email to the Education Director, and received a reply from new Executive Director Kevin Monroe, asking to meet with me. He’s open and enthusiastic and “kept awake at night” by issues of herbicides and invasive species. I’m waiting to hear from him exactly where the spraying was done, so I can avoid those places for the duration of the summer.

Barbara and Claire expressed an intention to raise their concerns with the Laguna Foundation. Please let me know if you’d like me to send you updates as I learn more. And if you contact the Laguna Foundation folks, please let me know what you find out.

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Groups Sue State Water Board to Prevent Fishery Extinctions

C-WIN, CSPA, and AquAlliance say the regulatory agency refuses to enforce and comply with laws protecting fisheries and water quality.

From the California Sportfishing Protection Alliance (CSPA), the California Water Impact Network (C-WIN), and AquAlliance, this press release:

On 4 August 2015, The California Sportfishing Protection Alliance (CSPA), California Water Impact Network (C-­‐WIN) and AquAlliance, collectively “Petitioners,” filed a lawsuit against the  State Water Resources Control Board (State Water Board) seeking declaratory and injunctive relief  and a writ of mandate, under California Code of Civil Procedure, in Alameda County Superior Court.  The lawsuit alleges that the State Water Board and its Executive Director violated the California Water Code, Public Trust Doctrine and a suite of environmental laws when it issued a series of Temporary Urgency Change Orders (TUCP Orders) that weakened legally adopted standards protecting water quality and fisheries.

This action is a companion to a 3 June 2015 federal lawsuit against the Department of Interior and U.S. Bureau of Reclamation for violations of the Administrative Procedure Act, Central Valley Project Improvement Act and Clean Water Act. The lawsuit asks the court to issue a writ of mandate ordering the State Water Board to vacate its TUCP Orders, to preliminarily and permanently enjoin the Board from activities undertaken pursuant to the TUCP Orders, enter a declaratory judgment that the Board has engaged in an illegal pattern and practice of adopting TUCP Orders and enjoin the Board from further engaging in an illegal pattern and practice of adopting TUCP Orders that violate the law.

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Environmental Group Seeks Injunction to stop Fracking in California

By Sandy Mazza, Daily Breeze
July 31, 2015

California counties with confirmed and suspected fracking.

A national environmental organization went to court this week demanding an immediate halt to hydraulic fracturing and other intensive well-stimulation methods until California petroleum industry regulators can consider new scientific findings of troubling health and environmental threats.

If a judge agrees with the Center for Biological Diversity, the agency’s complaint could lead to a prohibition on any new fracking projects, which constitute about a quarter of the state’s petroleum production.

Kassie Siegel, the lead attorney on the lawsuit filed Thursday in Sacramento Superior Court, said state legislators ignored alarming hazards to continue “business as usual” for the oil industry and minimized dangers outlined in a state-commissioned fracking report released in July.

The independent scientific report was designed to inform state policy but it wasn’t considered in the California’s first large-scale environmental impact report on well-stimulation activities published last month. Both the study and the EIR were ordered by the 2013 passage of Senate Bill 4, which established the first statewide well-stimulation regulations and, in response to a large public outcry, vowed to answer a long-simmering question: How toxic is fracking?

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A Profile of MRC Timber Harvests and Herbicide Use

by Will Parrish,
July 8, 2015

Perhaps more than any large private timber company in the history of California’s redwood coastal region region, Mendocino Redwood Company (MRC) has branded itself as an environmentally responsible land steward.  The company’s main goal, according to the About Us section of its web site, is “to demonstrate it is possible to manage productive forestlands with a high standard of environmental stewardship, and also operate a successful business.”  Other goals include “improvements in aquatic and upslope habitat, old growth protection, clean water, and community well being, in addition to producing long-term sustainable timber supplies.”

The timber production part only makes its perfunctory arrival at the end of the sentence.

Other large timber companies in California makes essentially the same claims. For example, California’s largest timberland owner, Sierra Pacific Industries, claims to be “managed by professional foresters who practice responsible land stewardship. While providing long-term sustained yields of quality timber, care is taken to preserve the healthy and diverse ecosystems of our forests.”  SPI, however, clear cuts forests as a matter of course.  A former company executive once even defended clearcutting as a tool for protecting spotted owl and other forest species at a Congressional hearing.

But MRC has various credentials that these other companies do not.  It does not use traditional clearcutting (more on that below).  Further bolstering the company’s green credentials, many environmental non-profit organizations have heaped praise on its practices.

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Can forests rebound from severe drought?

Even after drought conditions subside, trees may take years to resume normal growth, say scientists.

Joseph Dussault, Staff Writer,
Christian Science Monitor
July 30, 2015

Courtesy of Leander Anderegg

It’s no surprise that droughts can severely weaken forests. But what happens when the drought ends?

Traditionally, climate models have operated under the assumption that forests bounce back quickly from periods of extreme stress. But new research, published Thursday in the journal Science, suggests that trees may take years to resume normal growth after a period of drought.

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