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Dead Baby Fish Do Not Pair Well With North Coast Wines

Growing wine grapes often involves taking water from creeks or from ground water near creeks. These practices can severely impact watersheds. One example of this is the practice of spraying water on vines during frost season. This intense use of water can rapidly lower water in nearby creeks that impact the small salmonids that are emerging from their eggs and redds (nest in which female places her eggs for incubation) trying to survive in small pools of water.

Dead Baby Fish
Baby steelhead stranded, April 2011

Rapid drawdowns associated with lots of vineyards pumping water all at once, and or small vineyards pumping a lot of water, leave anadromous fish stranded. Some vineyards will spray up to 50 gallons of water per acre per minute in an attempt to protect grapes when temperatures drop to 36 degrees or lower. That adds up to a lot of water out of one tributary, and the frost protection goes on for multiple hours and sometimes on multiple mornings. Ten acres, for example, can take 30,000 gallons in an hour from one stream. The impacts of frost protection have even been documented on the main stem of the Russian River.

The conversions of our watersheds to vineyards continues in the face of significant impacts that are caused by more and more vineyard conversions in our sediment-impaired north coast streams. County and state rules allow much of this, but damaging activities could be dramatically tempered by local leadership. If we are to reverse the lethal impacts that are occurring, we need to expect our agricultural and community leaders to do a lot better.