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Water, Water, Water, pt. 1 - How Bad is It?

In the near future, I plan to start throwing more grape price projections up on this blog, but first I'm going to do a three-part series on water, which is on every grower's mind right now. This first post will give an overview of the situation, the next post will be the meat and potatoes of what you can do about it and the third post will focus on what our state and local governments and our society can do about the current drought.

So, how bad is it?

Let's start with the good news, since we hear so little about it. First of all, if winegrowers are not the most efficient agricultural water users in the state, they are among the most efficient (it all depends on the measurement methodologies used). This year we got lucky that we had few frost issues, so we did not experience what could have been an unbearable strain on our already depleted water sources. We also got lucky that what little rain we have experienced has been rather timely, coming at opportune times for our vines. That's all the good news I've got; now for the bad news:

  • This year has the potential to break last year's record for low precipitation. There is, however, a 30% chance that El Nino weather patterns will bring us some serious rains.

  • Snow pack is at only 18% of normal levels. This is horrible news, since we rely on that snow for water outside of the "rainy season."

  • Lake Mendocino is at less than half of normal levels and Lake Sonoma is at less than 3/4 of normal levels. State and federal water storage facilities are at about half of normal levels.

  • Water diversion curtailments are coming, use restrictions are coming and, eventually, groundwater regulations are coming, too.

Yes, that last bullet point is right. If you draw water by permit from certain watersheds, including the Russian River, you can expect a curtailment notice soon and, at some point or another, even your wells are going to be regulated. In fact, you wells and pumps may be subject to regulations this year, if regulatory bodies deem them to be "hydrologically connected" to regulated watersheds. Those curtailments, by the way, are likely to be curbs that cut off all water rights for anything above 50 gallons per person per day. More about that next week, though, when I focus on what growers can do about droughts.

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