The saying goes: "Food grows where water flows." But soon, growers might be saying, "Where water flows, government grows."

Many changes regarding how wine grape growers can exercise their water use rights loom on the horizon. Wine grape growers haven't been drastically impacted by water regulations in the past; however, in a few weeks, proposed changes to the Ag Regulatory Program could change this.

On March 17, 2011, the day after the Central Coast VINE Symposium, the Regional Water Quality Control Board (RWQCB) will hear the latest staff recommendations and potentially adopt those recommendations.  Growers will have a chance to hear the latest update on the proposed changes from ag water rights specialist, Kay Mercer at the Central Coast VINE Symposium, March 15-16, 2011 at the Paso Robles Event Center in Paso Robles, Calif.

Mercer, president of KMI, Inc. is the former executive director of the Central Coast Agricultural Water Quality Coalition. She has spent the last six years working on agriculture water quality issues.  At VINE, she will summarize the latest staff recommendations to be released next week, and give growers an overview of what lies ahead. According to Mercer, the time for growers to get involved is now.

"Growers need to be involved earlier," Mercer said. "Once it is adopted, you cannot suggest changes. They [growers] have a tendency to wait until they know the immediate impacts to their farms and by then it's too late.  Agriculture needs to have people at the table involved in drafting these policies. It's important that growers individually or through their associations be tracking these things and providing comment."

Arming wine grape growers with information and preparing them to make comment at the March 17 hearing of the RWQCB is one of the reasons VINE meeting director, Lowell Zelinski put this topic on the agenda. He also included it because he's concerned that wine grape growers have been lulled into a false sense of security based on the way the previous ag waiver was implemented.

"Wine grape growers typically have been the least impacted farmers on the Central Coast," Zelinski said. "But this could all change if the board adopts the new staff recommendations."