Will Parrish, SONOMA VALLEY SUN
For at least two decades, Sonoma County officials have sided with the wine industry in nearly every major political dispute. The reason? The industry dominates the county’s economy – and financially dominates county election campaigns.
Last spring, Sonoma County supervisors Efren Carrillo, James Gore, and Susan Gorin traveled to Sacramento to meet with some of California’s highest-ranking regulatory officials: California Secretary of Food and Agriculture Karen Ross, Secretary of Fish and Wildlife Charles Bonham, senior staff members at the State Water Resources Control Board, and State Water Resources Control Board member Dee Dee D’Adamo.
The subject of the closed-door session was a pending drought-related emergency order governing water use in four sections of the Russian River watershed, which the state and federal governments had deemed crucial to the survival of the endangered coho salmon and threatened steelhead trout. According to Supervisor Gore, in an interview with me last year, the specific focus of the conversation was to determine “what we could do to achieve the goal of water in the creeks for coho.”
Soon after, the Water Board announced the terms of the regulatory order, which spans 270 days – and remains in effect as of this writing. It applies to an estimated 13,000 Sonoma County residents. It forbids watering of lawns. It places limits on car washing and watering residential gardens. It does not, however, place mandatory limits on water used by irrigated vineyards, which are arguably the main recent cause of the iconic fish species’ perilous decline in the four areas in question.
The failure to regulate the wine industry outraged hundreds of local residents, who vented their opinions in public comment sessions at a series of public meetings held by the Water Board last year. Ironically, based on statements by the Water Board’s D’Adamo, the three elected Sonoma County representatives may have had a role in preventing exactly the restrictions for which these residents advocated.
In a 2015 public meeting, a Mark West Creek resident asked D’Adamo why the wine industry was exempt from the order. D’Adamo noted that “the county” had requested that the regulations not cause “an economic impact.” In a later interview with me, D’Adamo echoed this statement. “Our target is not irrigation [for wine-grapes] that provides an economic benefit,” she said.
Eventually, a slight majority of vineyard operators in the four watersheds (71 out of roughly 130 at last count) voluntarily committed to reducing their water use by 25 percent, relative to 2013 levels. Many onlookers question the efficacy of this voluntary effort, which they note lacks oversight. Meanwhile, one of Sonoma County’s largest wine corporations, Jackson Family Wines, agreed to pump 2.3 million gallons of water from a reservoir serving a pinot noir vineyard into Green Valley Creek. To many residents and environmentalists, though, this episode involving the Water Board reflects an elementary truth of Sonoma County’s modern power structure: The wine industry receives constant support from Sonoma County policymakers in every major political battle, even as it invades neighborhoods and pollutes the environment.
Read more at: Under the influence? How the wine industry dominates Sonoma County election campaigns | Sonoma Sun