There’s not much of substance to add to the latest round of legal steps surrounding the State Water Board’s attempt to introduce minimal management of frost protection water drawn from the Russian River by inland grape growers.
Last week, a group of Mendo grape growers led by a Redwood Valley grape grower and PhD psychotherapist named Dr. Rudolph Light, announced that they would appeal the recent state appellate court's overturn of Mendo Judge Ann Moorman’s hometown ruling that the Water Board couldn't require local grape growers to devise their own plans to minimize fish strandings. Mass fingerling death has occurred when the grape people all turn on their pumps at once.
Local vineyardists showed up en masse in Moorman's courtroom a few years ago to whine that the state's timid demands were somehow onerous. Writing your own water use plan is an imposition, a Stalin-like state intrusion into this vital branch of free enterprise? Regulation of frost protection draws on public streams are givens in Sonoma and Napa counties. Our grape growers are different, it seems.
Dr. Light is represented by Jared Carter’s Ukiah-based law firm. Carter, something of a national rightwing eminence grise, regards regulation of private property as equivalent to confiscation. Needless to say, Carter's cockamamie theories are popular with Republicans. And inland grape growers.
Carter has apparently convinced Dr. Light that he should pursue a dubious appeal of the Appellate Court's sensible decision that the state has not only the right but the obligation to protect public streams.
According to the monarchical Light himself in a 2012 Ukiah Daily Journal article about the reasons behind his decision to fight the Water Board, he’s “offended” because 1. The Water Board’s analysis of the effects of frost protection on fish is flawed and under-documented and 2. “The cost to people would be enormous, in money and time,” because “the equipment needed to monitor every gallon of water used is very expensive, not to mention the time and expertise needed to set up the equipment, as well as record and submit all the data collected.”
Get that? Light actually said the Water Board wanted him to keep track of “every gallon.” I promise you, people will go out of business,” harrumphed the Light, raising his “offended” rhetoric from nutty to preposterous, because, as Light himself concedes, the Water Board’s proposed Water Demand Management Program merely calls for “an inventory of the frost diversion systems; a stream-stage monitoring program; an annual assessment of the potential risk of harm to salmonids; the identification and implementation of any corrective actions necessary to avoid harm to salmonids, and annual reporting of program data, activities and results.” See anything here like accounting for “every gallon” or “enormous cost”?
The State Water Board has simply asked the grape growers to tell the Water Board who’s diverting Russian River water for frost protection and how much are pumping. And to monitor stream flows a little better than they do now while conducting their own annual (once a year) salmon risk assessment.
Inland grape growers like Light insist that they already monitor the government stream gage on their own, and that they have built numerous ponds to collect winter flow to minimize the need for direct pumping from the River. To require anything more is unreasonable, they say.
Carter seems to have convinced the Russian River crybabies that the Water Board requiring them to simply document what they say they’re already doing is unfair and excessive.
Dr. Light has penned at least two detailed refutations of the Water Board’s technical analysis. He insists he has demonstrated that the Board’s sample size was too small and missed a few pieces of data, and that if the Board really wanted to save fish, they’d restrict fishing on the upper Russian River and its tributaries, not make new water rules. (Never mind that the Water Board doesn’t have any say in fishing rules.)
In one of his “white papers,” Dr. Light admits that his 24-acre vineyard is in a “topographic cold sink as well as being close to the river.” In other words, Light planted his grapes in a bad spot and now he doesn’t like being told to prove his windy claims that he’s not hurting fish.
Light claims that fishermen are taking salmon out of the Russian and the state and feds aren’t doing anything about it. He offers no proof of this statement. (Fish and Wildlife has indeed seriously restricted fishing on the Russian, and many of the fishermen are catch-and-release fishermen anyway.)
Light also argues that there are numerous flaws in the present data collection system. But the flaws Dr. Light complains about are exactly the kinds of things that should be addressed in whatever the grape growers end up proposing when their appeal is denied by the State Supreme Court.
At one point in his argument Light admits, “We did not turn on our pumps on April 26, I suspect some people probably did in the morning hours.”
“Some people,” are not identified. Nor is the number of "some people.”
Light's data nitpicks may have some limited merit, but they are not an argument against self-designed frost protection management, which is long overdue in the chronically low-flow Russian River system — even more so in the current drought. Redwood Valley runs out of water almost every year these days and the sooner they get a system set up to manage it, the better.
But Light insists that “the government is killing people’s livelihoods” by their supposedly flawed analysis. And their “intense pushing for draconian regulations is making the practice of agriculture prohibitively expensive in this area.”
There's nothing draconian in what the Water Board has proposed, no matter what errant bullshit Jared Carter may have laid on Light. And in spite of the numerous pages of water data Dr. Light amasses in his tedious white paper, he never explains how he determined that the Water Board’s proposal would be “prohibitively expensive.” In fact, it’s woefully inadequate, a very small step toward a rational water management system like the much better one that’s been in place on the Napa River for decades without a peep from the Napa grape growers.