Water and Wine: Partners in Wine Country Stewardship

Project Description

Water and Wine is a comprehensive new initiative to enhance streamflow and restore streams in Northern California Wine Country. Trout Unlimited is partnering with California grapegrowers to (1) construct off-stream, winter water storage ponds to reduce dry season diversions; (2) implement performance-based, coordinated water management; and (3) build public awareness of sound stewardship and the connections between good food and wine and healthy fish populations.

Project Map

Publicly Accessible: Yes
County: Sonoma County, CA
Project Size:
  • 119869.1 acres

Project Sites

  • Dry Creek (Not publicly accessible)
  • Sonoma County

Goals and Targets

Primary Motivations:

  • Conservation Mission

Primary Goals:

  • Water and Wine is a new partnership with grape growers to improve water supply reliability and improve stream flows in Wine Country. We will do this through (1) construction of small off-stream water storage ponds to collect rainy-season water as an alternative to dry season diversions; (2) performance-based, coordinated water management among irrigators located in the same basins; and (3) public awareness. Water and Wine will set an important precedent for water management, demonstrating alternatives to the existing water rights system, which has largely failed to protect either water users or the flows necessary to support aquatic resources—and which is widely seen as holding back innovation. Water and Wine will focus initially on Wine Country streams in Sonoma, Mendocino, Napa, and Humboldt counties. Its lessons will be transferable to other types of agriculture on other coastal streams.
    Progress: Trout Unlimited has continued to make significant progress toward the goals and outcomes of Water and Wine as outlined in our full proposal to the Wildlife Conservation Society (dated October 18, 2007): Water and Wine will enhance stream flows in Northern California Wine Country and demonstrate a model for others in California through (a) off-stream water storage, (b) coordinated streamflow management, and (c) incentivizing conservation. (a) Off-Stream Water Storage Outcome: TU will recruit up to 12 partners to develop pilot projects, and work with those leaders to develop model permitting, financing, and engineering packages to allow long-term and large-scale changes throughout Wine Country. These leaders will help us and partner agencies create a permitting template so that other irrigators can implement similar projects with minimal red tape and regulatory uncertainty. In our first progress report, we described the launch of the Water and Wine program and recruitment of 15 participating vineyards and wineries from Dry Creek Valley, Alexander Valley, and Knights Valley in Sonoma County. Since the first progress report, we have been actively working with the Water and Wine participants to assess the feasibility of and identify opportunities for off-stream storage and coordinated streamflow management within their watersheds. As we describe below, we have selected two watersheds for piloting coordinated water management and off-stream storage: Grape Creek and Felta Creek. Grape Creek is a tributary to Dry Creek, a major tributary to the Russian River. As a pilot project, Grape Creek provides the critical intersection of the (a) feasibility of salmonid restoration, (b) degree of impairment of stream by diminished flows, (c) critical mass of landowners interested in collaboration, and (d) characteristics—including water supply, water rights ownership, and geography—that allow it to serve as a model elsewhere. • The watershed continues to support steelhead trout, and until recently supported coho salmon (coho were last seen in Grape Creek in the mid-1990s). Grape Creek was identified in a National Marine Fisheries Service draft Recovery Plan as a first priority stream for near-term restoration and threat abatement actions, and, with habitat improvements, could be considered for future coho reintroduction. • Opportunities exist for addressing diminished flow in drier months. Physical and management solutions in the watershed can help maintain stream connectivity and decrease water temperature. • Landowner interest has been significant, and we are continuing our outreach efforts. As we described in our first report, there are five Water and Wine participants in the watershed who represent approximately 168 acres (about 55% of the vineyard acres in the watershed, and about 3% of total drainage area). Aside from vineyards, rural residential dwellings are the only other land use in the basin. • Many of the landowners have already participated in habitat restoration projects in the watershed, including stream bank stabilization, native vegetation planting, and grade control structures (boulder and log weirs). Planning for additional habitat restoration projects in the watershed is on-going. • We have been working closely with landowners to install streamflow gauges (see (b) below) and have identified the first potential projects. • Because the land use, threats, and opportunities are similar to many other watersheds in the Russian River drainage, it provides an ideal location in which to model the approach and minimize the impacts of water use for grape-growing on salmonids. In addition, we are also working on opportunities to address frost protection pumping and diversions for irrigation in Felta Creek. Felta Creek is a tributary to Mill Creek, one of the three streams that continue to support coho salmon in the Russian River watershed. The creek provides high value habitat for salmon and steelhead, but its coho population recently suffered from vineyard diversions for frost protection (most of the stranded smolts were rescued). In partnership with state and federal agencies and landowners, we are developing solutions through Water and Wine to provide water reliability and security for grape-growers and fish in that watershed (see also, #9 below). Finally, we are excited about expanding the program within and beyond Sonoma County. We are currently joining forces with two local Resource Conservation Districts and a host of other partners to expand the coordinated water management approach to 4-5 other Sonoma Country streams with a variety of land uses (i.e., vineyard, rural residential, other agricultural uses) (see #10 below), and we have ramped up outreach to growers in Mendocino County. The response to the program from growers and other organizations throughout Mendocino has been favorable. (b) Coordinated Streamflow Management Outcomes: TU will develop and launch pilot projects in one or more watersheds within Wine Country with willing water users. Each is expected to involve between 5 and 20 landowners. Pilot sites will be selected based on the potential for fish recovery, the need for flow enhancement, the existence of willing partners, and the selection of representative watersheds to best inform future efforts. In our first progress report, we described our on-going efforts in partnership with the University of California Cooperative Extension and our science-based non-profit partner, the Center for Ecosystem Management and Restoration (CEMAR) to compile data to profile potential project watersheds. The work includes mapping the historical distribution and current habitat status for salmonids in the study area, collecting property-specific information pertinent to off-stream storage, identifying barriers to migration, etc. We used that information to create watershed profile summary worksheets to inform our planning, pilot watershed selection, and data collection efforts. We also reported that we were investigating Grape Creek as candidate watershed for coordinated water management. Since the first progress report, we selected pilot watersheds and have begun the task of gathering streamflow and habitat data to inform both streamflow recommendations and streamflow management plans (which combine the recommendations with concrete actions to achieve them). We have had tremendous success securing permission from landowners to gauge streamflow on their properties. Working with landowners, we have selected gauge locations in the watershed with the goal of collecting two years of streamflow data at numerous locations within the watershed to determine the flow regime at different points in the watershed and the frequencies and durations of instream flows at each location. We have installed gauges in the Grape Creek watershed and will install gauges in Felta Creek in the next few weeks. We are also making significant progress toward launching the coordinated water management approach outside of Wine Country streams. Although the effort is funded separately, it will benefit the project indirectly (e.g., by streamlining the process behind streamflow recommendations, through the development of the policy and permitting framework, etc.). (c) Incentivizing Conservation Outcomes: TU will create incentives for water users to participate in stream flow projects by publicizing our partnerships and projects. We will link water stewardship with grape growing, wine making, and enthusiasm for wild salmon. In our first progress report, Trout Unlimited identified a number of our publications and events designed as recruiting and educational tools, as ways to highlight industry leaders in the Water and Wine program, and a means to encourage new advocates and participants in salmon and steelhead conservation. These included: • First Annual Wild Steelhead Festival in Healdsburg, CA • Water and Wine Launch event • Water and Wine: Partners in Wine Country Stewardship report • Trout Unlimited Gala • Have Your Salmon and Eat it Too: California wild salmon recipe booklet • Vote with Your Fork (and your Glass) events: including the first-annual Salmon Aid festival • “Salmon 2040” Article in Trout Magazine on TU California programs, with a focus on Water & Wine Since then, we are pleased to report additional progress toward our goals: • The second annual Wild Steelhead Festival: The first festival was a resounding success and we will be participating in the upcoming, second annual festival on February 6-8, 2009. The Sonoma County grape growers have invited us to join them at their table to promote Water and Wine. • Slow Food Nation: At the end of August 2008, we were invited to participate in the first-ever and highly publicized Slow Food Nation in San Francisco, CA. The event provided us with an ideal opportunity to target our outreach and bring foodies and consumers on board as advocates of both wild salmon and our efforts to protect and reconnect their habitat. • Water, People, Fish: Ten Years of Partnership and Innovation for Western Rivers: The Western Water Project, Trout Unlimited’s effort to reform state water law, recently celebrated its 10 year anniversary and released a report detailing its accomplishments, including those of the California Water Project and Water and Wine (Attachment 1). • Connecting farming, food, and conservation: We presented our work during the Sustainable Food Lab Journey to Sonoma County, a tour for a diverse group of academics, businesses and other organizations united by an interest in learning more about sustainable food and farming practices. Additionally, we are developing more opportunities to promote good practices among our participants through TU’s WhyWild program (www.whywild.org), including re-vamping the website and newsletter and developing a full-length, full-color, hardcover wild salmon recipe book modeled after our successful regional recipe booklets.

Consistent With Plans:

  • Local Land Use Plan
  • Species Recovery Plan
  • Watershed Plan
  • State Wildlife Action Plan

Targeted Habitats:

  • Aquatic
    • Rivers and Streams
  • Forests and Woodlands
    • Deciduous Forests and Woodlands
  • Human Habitats
    • Agriculture
      • Vineyards, Berries, Orchards, Nursery
    • Urban and Residential
      • Rural Residential (Low Intensity Developed)
  • Wetlands and Riparian Habitats
    • Lowland Riparian Forests and Shrublands

Targeted Species:

  • Coho Salmon Oncorhynchus kisutch
  • Steelhead - Northern California Oncorhynchus mykiss pop. 16

Conservation Actions

Action Status Start Year End Year
Education Ongoing Management 2008 --
Create/improve spawning/nesting habitat In Progress 2008 2010


Is the success of this project's actions being monitored? Yes

Monitoring Activities
On a project level, assessment of baseline conditions and evaluation of progress toward instream flow outcomes is explicitly built into Water and Wine. The coordinated streamflow management component, for example, will include extensive information and data gathering about water supply and instream flows in the selected watersheds. We will then develop plans and management systems with participants such that diversions within a watershed are managed to meet identified habitat conditions. The program will ensure that participating water users meet established instream flow levels, and use scientific, technological and legal tools to ensure monitoring, compliance, and long-term management solutions. Indeed, a central purpose of the pilot projects is to develop the legal and institutional governance mechanisms to ensure that performance objectives are carried out and provide durable results. On a programmatic level, we will use the current water rights regulatory system as a baseline against which to evaluate our efforts to pilot off-stream water storage and coordinated streamflow management. Addressing issues of water rights, use, and diversions with water users represents the hard case in restoration efforts, especially given the current regulatory context. The State Water Board has a backlog of about 400 pending applications for water rights in and along the North Coast. Many of the applications have been pending for 10 or more years, and most are being operated without a water right—and without ecological safeguards. Irrigators have been reluctant to change practices to improve stream flows—even where there is a clear water supply reliability benefit—because of the expectation that permits will not be forthcoming. If we can demonstrate success with a dozen or so projects, we can create a template for the agencies to use for future projects, and demonstrate to other irrigators that change is possible.

Quick Facts

Owning Organization

Wildlife Conservation Society

Managing Organization

Trout Unlimited
(Non-Governmental Organization)

Contact Information

Brian Johnson (Director California Water Project, Staff Attorney)
Trout Unlimited

General Information

Project #: 1770
Last Updated: January 17, 2011

Project Relations


Alderbrook Winery
Bevill Family Vineyards
Cadd Ranch
Jackson Family Wines
Mauritson Vineyard and Winery
Michel-Schlumberger Wine Estate
Mounts Vineyards and Winery
Nelson Vineyards
Quivira Vineyards
Robert Young Vineyards
Rodney Strong Vineyards
Rued Vineyards and Winery
Simi Winery
Steelhead Wines
Weinstock Vineyards
Wine Creek Vineyard



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