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California vineyard water ban ‘will cost economy $2bn a year’

Plans to restrict water use in vineyards across California's Sonoma and Mendocino counties could cost the local economy up to US$2bn a year, according to a new report.

The report, commissioned by Williams Selyem winery, said up to 8,000 jobs could be lost as a result of the move by California’s State Water Resources Control Board (SWRCB), which wants to restrict wineries’ use of Russian River water for frost protection.

Written by Robert Eyler, professor and chair of economics at Sonoma State University, the report assesses the ‘significant’ loss of business income, state and local taxes, and land values, as well as the impact on tourism.

Frost damage would cut production, it says, resulting in fewer employees and lower wages across the distribution chain of the local wine industry.

Capital investment would be impacted, and wineries would be forced to invest in more expensive and less effective means of protecting their vines from frost.

‘Most of Sonoma and Mendocino county winegrowers are small businesses with less than 50 employees,’ said Nick Frey, president of the Sonoma County Winegrape Commission.

‘This regulation risks putting many of these people out of business.’

The SWRCB put forward the proposal after two instances where fish were reportedly stranded by reduced water levels when vineyard owners started pumping water for frost protection at the same time.

Written by Richard Woodard

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