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Mendocino County Judge Invalidates State’s Frost Protection Regulations

Ukiah Daily Journal Staff
September 9, 2012
Ukiah Daily Journal

Mendocino County Superior Court Judge Ann Moorman ruled in favor of a group of local landowners who sued the California State Water Resources Control Board over new regulations affecting Russian River water used for frost protection in local vineyards.

Moorman said that she agreed with the plaintiffs and declared the new regulations “constitutionally void.” Moorman, in her written decision handed down Wednesday afternoon, said “The court concludes that the SWRCB exceeded its authority by having adopted a regulation encompassing all classes of water rights holders including riparians and failing to make the necessary specific findings as to those water users.” Moorman also declared the new regulations invalid under the California Environmental Quality Act because the state did not present convincing evidence that the regs were necessary.

The new regulation that would have limited the amount of water grape growers can divert from the Russian River for frost protection. It was to go into effect in March. Acting on behalf of a suit filed by Rudolph and Linda Light, who grow grapes in Redwood Valley, Moorman granted “a stay of the enforcement of the regulation” until the case was decided.

The State Water Resources Control Board adopted the regulation last year, stating that “the high, instantaneous demand for water for frost protection by numerous vineyardists and other water users may contribute to a rapid decrease in stream stage that results in the mortality of salmonids.”

Because of this, the regulation required that between March 15 and May 15, “any diversion of water (except for diversion upstream of Coyote Dam or Warm Springs Dam) from the Russian River stream system, including the pumping of hydraulically connected groundwater, for purposes of frost protection shall be diverted in accordance with a board-approved water demand management program (WDMP).”

Attorney Matisse Knight, of the firm Carter, Behnke, Oglesby and Bacik, said he suit argued that the SWRCB “does not have the legal authority to take what is beneficial, frost protection, and turn it into an unreasonable use and try and regulate it,” and that the regulation did not comply with the California Environmental Quality Act.