ACCORDING TO a wine-grower profile by Congressman Huffman’s (formerly Congressman Thompson’s) aide Heidi Cusick Dickerson back in 2010, Milovina Vineyards grows several varieties of grapes at their “manicured fish friendly farmed vineyards” outside of Hopland. The vineyard is owned and operated by Milovina brothers John, 61 and Jim, 69, and Jim’s son David. Their vineyard property was purchased by John and Jim’s grandfather and father in 1957; it's grown from 40 acres to around 240 acres since then. The expanded acreage in grape vines of course requires more water, water is stored in ponds, the water stored in those ponds for irrigation and frost protection comes from the nearest stream.
And there's the rub.
“Weather is a big factor for farmers,” reports Congressman Huffman’s grape-beguiled aide. “Heavy frosts such as those in 2008 can devastate crops. This was the year when the threat of cutting off water for frost protection loomed over grape growers along the Russian River. But the increased rain and smaller number of frosty nights eased the worry. ‘Mother Nature helped us out,’ said son David. ‘Conservation is a way of life for us farmers from water collection to how our crops are grown,’ added Jim. ‘It’s important because we are conscious of how our growing methods affect the bottom line.’ ‘With government regulations demanding more of growers, we deal with more complicated water rights, air quality, and employment issues,’ added John, ‘Grape growing is not the simple way of life as portrayed in the media’.”
Ms. Cusick-Dickerson adds that “Milovina Vineyards sells their sustainably and organically grown grapes to wineries in Napa, Sonoma and Mendocino County.”
That was three years before the State Water Resources Control Board fined Milovina Vineyards $33,800 last week for illegally diverting water from an unnamed tributary to the Russian River into a 1.4-acre reservoir which is used for irrigation and frost protection of about 40 acres of their grapes.
According to Water Board staff, the Milovina family could have been fined up to $2.4 million based on the $500 per day penalty they could have been assessed back to 1999 when Milovina first started pumping from the tributary into their 1.4 acre pond. But out of the goodness of their bureaucratic heart the Water Board decided to reduce the fine to $33,800.
Back in 2009, the Water Board sent out notices to grape growers in the Russian River watershed that they should get their paperwork in order for their ponds and their plumbing or they’d be subject to substantial fines. The paperwork, of course, costs a lot of money and final permits can take years — a serious disincentive to file for them. Until 2009 the possession of a “water right” to pump into a pond was simply a legal requirement — if you didn’t have the official “right” to the water, you couldn’t sue your upstream neighbor for overpumping, depriving you of water.
But in 2009, coincidentally when the state was in a serious budget deficit, the Water Board raised the stakes with their warning that you better have your right — or an application for it on file — or you’d be subject to the fines.
Meanwhile, the Water Board issued regulations that would have required the Russian River watershed wine industry to come up with ways to coordinate their water draws so that they didn’t pump the river and its tributaries dry during heavy frosts, stranding endangered salmon. Rivers and their tributaries are still widely believed to nourish fish. Absence of said water causes fish strandings.
But that relatively reasonable effort by the Water Board was overturned by Mendocino County Superior Court Judge Anne Moorman who ruled in favor of her class-allies — who showed up in force in Moorman’s courtroom — in tossing the new rules which would have allowed the growers to devise their own water plans. (So far, the Water Board hasn’t retaliated in court, but the timing of this latest fine against Milovina sure leaves people to speculate that the $34k fine is somehow connected, a shot across the bow, perhaps.)
In the 90s the Water Board issued a warning to Anderson Valley pond owners to have their paperwork in order based on a flyover which discovered some 600 (!) questionable ponds. Several pond owners filed paperwork in response to that warning, but no one in Anderson Valley has ever been fined for pumping creek water into their ponds without paperwork, even though it’s common.
A glance at the Water Board’s complicated permit applications at the Water Board’s confusing on-line website, in the Anderson Valley case, provides only a glimpse at the multiple layers of complexity that California water regulation has come to. Not only are the permits expensive, but they usually involve hiring a costly Sacramento based water consultant to prepare them.
In spite of all these water regulations (the Water Board, Fish & Game, County Planning & Building, etc. all have their fingers in the permit pie), the fish in Anderson Valley’s streams are still struggling because extensive paperwork is not regulation, just a costly hassle for grape growers while winegrowers pump more or less what they want to pump with little fear of actually being caught, much less regulated. Fines, when they are imposed, are almost always imposed on smaller wineries who have limited ability to pay the permit fees, or fight back; they aren't imposed on the big corporate grape growers who can afford the permit costs and who can afford to fight the fines with expensive attorneys and by calling in chits from well-cultivated political connections with this area’s office-holding Democrats at all levels of government.
Also back in the 1990s the Mendocino County Grand Jury recommended that Mendocino County develop a gaging ordinance for the Russian River which would require that flow gages be installed on all pumps and pipes in the Russian River watershed. The ordinance recommended by the Grand Jury would have required all five water districts in the Ukiah Valley as well as all commercial water drawers to have gages. In their response to the Grand Jury, the Board of Supervisors agreed that a gaging ordinance was necessary and that one would be developed and issued. But of course no such ordinance was ever even drafted, much less issued.
When I asked former County Water Agency head Roland Sanford about the gaging ordinance that the Board had agreed to prepare a few years ago (before his Agency was defunded and disbanded), Sanford said there was no ordinance because “the Board of Supervisors never asked me to prepare one.”
In the early 90s, former senior Water Board Staffer Bruce Fodge (who subsequently transferred to Caltrans, remarking as he went that Caltrans was a more environmentally responsible agency than the Water Board) proposed a solution to the apparent impasse which would have simplified and reduced the costs of the permit process and given some real protection to the fish:
Fodge proposed that there be a limited diversion (pumping) season (i.e., the rainy season), that ponds be limited in size, that pipe sizes be limited to one-inch, and that no pumping be allowed unless the flow rate in the river was above a certain number (cubic feet per second, or CFS) — 200 cfs in the case of the Navarro River.
Grape growers didn’t like Fodge’s perfectly reasonable proposal because they didn’t want any regulation at all. Environmentalists didn’t push for it because it wasn’t their idea and, in this county, they tend to be palsy-walsy with the wine industry. Fodge's commonsense proposal would still have allowed a substantial amount of pumping during the rainy season but the Water Board never seriously considered it.
The upshot is the mess we now have: no real regulation of water usage for grapes, costly and time-consuming paperwork requirements which do nothing to protect the fish but make grape growers whine about “over-regulation” at every turn, and random fines for the smaller grape growers who get caught with their paperwork down.
EVERY YEAR, maybe twice a year since these things seem to always be occurring, the Press Democrat announces that it's won a bunch of journalism awards. Which, in a world with even residual standards, would be impossible. But there it was in the paper last week, trophies all-round, just like a Little League banquet.
WHAT THE CASUAL reader doesn't know about newspapers, apart from what he's reading, is that, to varying degrees, it’s untrue, including the weather report (fog is not a “marine layer,” it's fog) and that the large circulation papers pay a person to apply for these awards. The smaller papers simply order one of their staffers to do it. To get a Pulitzer — which everyone in the country except the Boonville paper has gotten twice over — to whatever toady trade group hands out the plaques to the PD, requires that someone fill out all the forms and mail them off with a nice check to the Pulitizer people who support themselves out of the application and membership fees. At the PD level of the journalo seraglio, everyone who pays the entry fee gets a teddy bear.
IF THE AVA, in a moment of high irony, sent in membership fees to The Little Papers of America or whatever Association of Defeated Hacks run these things, we'd probably get an award for, for, for… Best Newspaper For Towns Beginning With 'B' With Less Than A Thousand Residents.
IF THE EDITORS at the PD weren't so purely contemptible in the way they not only deliberately don't cover the news, but so shameless in their serf-like devotion to the soil-destroying, water-stealing, labor-exploiting, industrial wine industry, they'd still get an award for “Devotion To Community” or something like that. The fact that they trumpet these phony recognitions in their paper is simply pathetic, desperate even.
BUT HERE THEY ARE AGAIN. A whole bag of trophies for the Rose City daily. “Ambitious opinions! Excellent, firm editorials! Attention to political diversity! Blue ribbon! General Excellence!” And so on.
FIRM EDITORIALS? If you're stirred by statements of the obvious, if Pete Golis musing on “Problems of Education” grabs you, or that mega-feeb Gullickson going on about his dog has you reaching for your hanky, well, our dialogue has ended before it’s begun.
THERE'S LOTS of good reporting out there, and newspapers are only as bold as the people editing and publishing them, but you've got to look for it. Some of it even appears in the mainstream papers, but the PD? Not even close since Art Volkerts was the man in the editor's chair. When Art ran the show the PD was a pretty darn good regional newspaper.
HAS THE BOSCO GANG improved the Press Democrat? Not in the least. It might even be a little dumber, a little heavier on big front page color photos of toddlers and their puppies running through the summer sprinklers. No, sir, it's a bad hat, Harry.
ANOTHER COMMENTER, MARK GREEN, responded to the PD's latest round of bogus awards a bit more temperately: “The Santa Rosa Press Democrat has some very nice entertainment stuff: restaurant reviews, food columns, etc. Often, quite good photography, too. But if the PD is the top paper in the state, journalism is in a sad, sad circumstance. Routinely, its editorial positions are public-minded in inverse proportion to how influential they are, so the paper will speak out on federal and state issues — over which it exerts absolutely no influence — with a reasonable moral compass, but on local issues where it does carry some influence, it carries water for its advertisers — primarily development, real estate and agricultural interests — with completely predictable regularity. Now it has been bought by the Bosco machine. In more than 20 years of various levels of involvement in Sonoma County politics — including serving as the founding Executive Director of Sonoma County Conservation Action and shepherding it through its first decade, in the years of UGB campaigns, building the public support for SMART and working to defeat plans to discharge Santa Rosa’s wastewater to the River or the Estero Americano — I have never seen any member of that machine show up at a public hearing to advocate for the public interest. Not once. Rather, they advocate for positions which financially benefit themselves and their clients, which include major garbage haulers, developers, road builders, construction companies, and gravel mining interests. So now we are treated to glowing reports, for example, of the glorious exploits of primary PD owner and Bosco kid Darius Anderson in relation to the Sacramento Kings and a hotel in Sonoma, as if the seeking of yet more millions is somehow heroic. Acknowledgement of his stake in the paper is safely buried in these stories where only those who read them all the way through will ever see them, while they belong in the top three paragraphs. Given the increasingly tenuous state of paper journalism, the PD is more dependent than ever on the shrinking pool of those who pay its bills, and therefore much less likely to print anything that might discomfit them. I think it’s safe to say that the wishes and interests of those who live here yet do not belong to the Ralph Lauren set — and particularly of advocates for the quality of life of ordinary citizens and of organized labor, which the PD appears to loathe — are unlikely to see fair airing when it comes to the issues of the day. Perhaps the problem is simply the model. For-profit newspapers have always had conflicts of interest, and while they represent themselves as carrying a public service role, at the end of the day they are about the return on investment to their owners. Public benefit inevitably takes a back seat when the two conflict. The bottom line is that the PD cannot be trusted in its reportage on local issues where its owners and advertisers have a financial stake.”
FIRST TIME we’ve ever agreed with anything Sarah Palin has had to say: “That White House Correspondent’s Dinner was pathetic. The rest of America is out there working our asses off while these DC ass-clowns throw themselves a nerdprom.”
NARROWLY CONSIDERED, that’s a pretty good assessment of that servile event. But Sarah, who doesn’t look like she just climbed out of a coal mine, then went on to lunches and dinners with another set of clown-asses, the billionaires largely responsible for the state of things.
NORTH COAST CAL FIRE GEARING UP FOR A DANGEROUS YEAR
by Kym Kemp (Courtesy, LostCoastOutpost.com)
“We are monitoring conditions and preparing for a very active summer,” explained Cal Fire Battalion Chief Jeremy Monroe. He says that his agency samples different vegetation components and the results are worrisome. “We’ve been seeing fuel moisture…like in 2008, the year we had the late June lightning fire.“ That year nearly a thousand fires swept California in a few short days. Monroe says, “The conditions in the wildlands are similar [to then].”
According to Jeff Tonkin of the US National Weather Service, rainfall in Eureka is at 82% of normal and similar numbers are in other areas across the region. Furthermore, he says, “The bulk of the precipitation fell in December. The earlier part of the winter was when we got most of the water.” He adds that we’ve had a somewhat dry spring and this will cause the North Coast region to be even more prone to fire danger than just having lower rainfall. Later rains can help ameliorate the issues but the last few months have been unusually dry.
Cal Fire’s Monroe says that unlike Southern California where, according to Robert Jablon of the Associated Press, “..fire crews have responded to more than 680 wildfires since the beginning of the year — some 200 more than average for the period,” our region has seen about the normal amount of fires so far.
On the other hand he says that on April 24th, the day that broke heat records in McKinleyville and Eureka, Cal Fire responded to unusually high number of fires. “The first incident we had…was up in West Haven. It was a 1/2 acre—human caused.” He adds that it was “well accessible and resources were able to knock it out quickly.” Then, he says, there was one near Miranda—a kiln started up and some sparks started a fire. “Then our helicopter was returning from a training mission and saw two fires on the Yurok reservation. These were both related —human caused and still under investigation. He adds, “If the weather continues as its been, the grasses will dry and we’ll see potentially more fire activity.”
That day, he says, “was an anomaly. It was a warm day. [But] if it gets hotter and warmer and dryer, the possibility of ignition is greater.”
According to the California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection, fire crews in the Southern part of the state are already increased staffing in response to the perceived danger. Monroe says, “They staff sooner because they are in the southwest. They have a lot more grass and brush.” However, he says, “We’re trying to get resources up and running—bringing everything up two weeks earlier then what was planned. This could change. If they have a lot of activity is Southern California, this might cause us to bring our staffing up [even] earlier. We’ll be bringing personnel and equipment on….Our dozers will be staffed seven days a week. The helicopter will be staffed full time. All the seasonal staff—the firefighters—we’ll get them trained.”
The answer to this situation is not fear but preparation, says Monroe. “For us, the message that we like to get out to the public is our Ready Set Go program. For anyone who lives in the wildlands, go to www.fire.ca.gov This site gives ideas and tips on how to prepare yourself and your home… .” (See the video below for a quick overview of this program.)
In addition, Monroe notes, “We can’t control natural fires but human caused fires we can.”
He says, “This is not appearing to be a normal year. It could change but it could be really active or it could fizzle out. ” He notes that that what started the 2008 fires mostly were lightning strikes and “We can’t predict what the weather will do throughout the summer…The lightning is a variable that you can’t predict.” He adds ruefully, “The rule I always tell people is I’ll tell you in November… Seriously I’ve been this around 26 years now but the biggest variable is the weather and you can’t predict…that well long term.”
A 1-DAY FAMILY GARDENING WORKSHOP: Save money, grow food, and connect with family and friends! A Benefit for the Waldorf School of Mendocino Taught by Master Gardener John Jeavons. Saturday, May 11, 8:00-5:00 in Willits. Learn skills that will keep you growing food for years to come. In a 20’ x 20’ garden, you can grow up to 1000 pounds of food each season. You may even grow enough to sell! Parents, children 12 and up, grandparents, teachers, friends and family are all welcome! Register now, online at www.johnjeavons.info – registration closes May 9th.General Admission is $110; Current Waldorf family members and students 12 and older are $75 each. Waldorf scholarship family members and students 12 years and older are $25 each. FREE admission for new Waldorf School Parents and Students 12 and older.