W. Blake Gray, WINE-SEARCHER.COM
Even before the Russian River killed a dog 10 days ago, fighting over its water was getting ugly.
The Russian River runs through some of the best grapegrowing areas in Sonoma and Mendocino Counties. Thirty years ago it was thick with salmon swimming upstream from the Pacific Ocean. The water level has declined and the fish population has dropped with it. Four years of severe drought have aggravated the situation.
Now the Russian River has an algae problem. A family took its 3-year-old golden retriever on a river visit late last month near Westside Road, where some of the country’s most expensive Pinot Noir comes from. Moments after climbing to shore, the dog went into seizures, foamed at the mouth and died. County public health officials discovered a toxin produced by blue-green algae that can also affect humans. They issued a warning just before the Labor Day weekend about the dangers of swimming in the popular recreation spot.
In July the state of California imposed water-use restrictions on residents, forbidding them from watering their lawns and limiting how often they could wash their cars. However, it did not restrict water use to Sonoma County’s 439 wineries or its 60,000 acres of vineyards. There was at least one fist fight at a meeting to explain the restrictions to residents.
There may be no connection between the algae and either the river’s recent woes, or the wine industry. According to the Florida Department of Environmental Protection, blue-green algae is most likely to proliferate in bodies of water with high levels of nitrogen and phosphorous when the water is hot and the weather is calm, as it has been in Sonoma County for most of this summer. It’s a common problem in the southeast United States and is found all over the world.
“I am not aware of anything that wineries or vineyards will be contributing that will encourage the growth of such algae except using the water for irrigation, which may affect the water level,” UC Davis viticulture and enology professor Dr. Anita Oberholster told Wine-Searcher.
But the dog may become a symbol for an environmental movement that has grown over the years from a quiet rumbling to an outright roar, most of it directed at the growth of the wine industry.
In August, activists in four counties formed a group called Wine and Water Watch to try to concentrate their efforts. The new state regulations announced in July that exempted wineries and vineyards were a big motivating factor.
Read more at: Water Woes Come to a Head in Sonoma | Wine News & Features