Redwood Valley Dry for Vineyards

May 12, 2014Articles

In a prior article, we discussed the two major types of water rights and how they coexist in wine country in California. But, how is that applicable to Redwood Valley? As you may have previously read, the Redwood Valley Water District cut off all agricultural uses of the water in the area.

Redwood Valley is in the northeast corner of Mendocino County. It has 2,200 acres of vineyards and average annual wine grape production revenue is $16 million. It is estimated that total revenues, after turning grapes into wine, is around $60 million. However, when the municipal water supply is reduced to bare minimum, the growers have to rely on ponds and wells, even though a large number of acres depend on irrigation and all acres depend on water for frost protection.

When we discussed riparian rights (those existing from early on) and appropriative rights (those taken later), we did not discuss the fact that some things don’t fit nicely into one of the two categories. It seems that the Redwood Valley is the only California county water district that serves both domestic and agriculture. The water district normally allows about 66 percent of the water for agricultural use and the rest for domestic use. Due to the drought and the lack of water supplies in Lake Pillsbury, they have to make an allocation – and it is to domestic use – restricted to 50 gallons per person, per day.

What about the riparian uses we discussed? Sometimes, neither riparian nor appropriative rights apply. The Redwood Valley water supply is mainly Lake Pillsbury, the primary source of water for Lake Mendocino. Lake Mendocino was created by the Army Corp of Engineers in 1959 as a flood control project for the Russian River. How much goes where is totally interconnected. Sonoma County paid to create Lake Mendocino and has rights set up in the 1950s. Redwood Valley has to apply to get more water from Lake Pillsbury and send less to Lake Sonoma and, so far, there is not enough to go around.

In the meantime, farmers have to deal with frost issues. And drip irrigation is ever more complicated.