2 West Marin water utilities consider rationing


Thousands of West Marin residents could soon be placed under mandatory water rationing rules enforceable through service shutoffs and fines as large as $500.

The Stinson Beach County Water District will consider an ordinance on Aug. 21 that would limit households to a 125-gallon allotment per day if supplies dip low enough. The Inverness Public Utility District will consider adopting its own rationing rules on Aug. 25 but has yet to define what the allotment could be.

Both communities follow the lead of Bolinas, which has been under a water rationing watch since February.

Inverness experienced its driest year on record in 2020-21, receiving only 15 inches of rain when it would normally get an average of 38 inches. The district, which serves 1,100 people, relies almost entirely on water from seven creeks on the Inverness Ridge for its supply.

“A couple of them are virtually dry now,” said Wade Holland, the district’s customer services manager. “It’s troubling.”

On Monday, the Inverness district enacted its first-ever mandatory water restrictions that prohibit all outdoor uses of potable water, including sprinkler systems, drip irrigation, refilling pools and washing cars. Residents are still able to use a hose nozzle or watering can for spot watering. Violations can result in a misdemeanor charge with fines ranging from $1,000 to $10,000 and up to 30 days in jail.

The creeks that replenish the district’s 10 storage tanks have dried out more quickly than anticipated, Holland said. While creek flows normally would keep the storage tanks at or near their full 440,000-gallon capacity, the tanks are now only filling up 75% and dropping lower every week.

“It doesn’t take long to get to the point where you’re just empty,” Holland said.

While residents have significantly cut back their water use, the creek flows are not meeting daily demands. The district is having to tap emergency wells as a result just to keep up, Holland said.

Water demand for the entire system in July was 63,100 gallons per day, down from 103,300 gallons. The water district supplies also have had more demand as a result of the pandemic when weekend homes began to be occupied full time, Holland said.

How long the district has until it could run out of water is not clear, Holland said.

“It’s impossible to predict,” Holland said. “There is no historical model.”

To avoid this outcome, the district is in early talks to obtain supplemental water supplies. While Holland declined to provide more details, he said the discussions do not include trucking in water.

“We are looking to get supplemental water into the system itself,” Holland said.

The Stinson Beach County Water District and the 2,000 residents it serves rely entirely on the Easkoot Creek watershed off Mount Tamalpais for supplies.

Being on the coastal side of the mountain provided enough rainfall to keep supplies ample for now, said Ed Schmidt, the district general manager, but that could change in the coming months, especially in the case of another dry winter. The district received just 13 inches of rain in 2020-21, nearly 60% below its average of 32 inches.

“We’re so fortunate here but we want to be prepared to do a mandate of 125 gallons per day,” Schmidt said.

The district board is expected to vote on the rationing rules at 9:30 a.m. Aug. 21. The ordinance, which is nearly identical to the one the district adopted in 2014 during the 2012-2017 drought, would require homes to use an average of 125 gallons per day. This equates to about a 20% reduction in average water use and is the same amount that residents in Bolinas are being asked to use, Schmidt said.

Water use would be tracked monthly. Households that use more than their allotment would receive a warning letter, followed by fines of $100 to $500 and potentially water service shutoffs if fines are unpaid. Additionally, the district will be charge $100 for every 748 gallons of water that a household uses over its allotment.

Households with four or more people can apply to increase allotments to 145 to 185 gallons per day depending on the number of residents. Businesses are being asked to voluntarily reduce water use by 20%.

While the ordinance would officially take effect on Sept. 1, the rationing will only kick in if the district’s water storage drops to 70% or below its capacity.

The district uses five wells to pump water and can store up to 1.25 million gallons at a time. As of Monday, the district’s storage was at 85% and has remained consistent, Schmidt said.

“In the last two months, not one day have we gone down to 70% of our storage,” Schmidt said. “We think that the water supply, if and when it does drop, it will drop slowly.”

Meanwhile, the district is looking for new sources of water, including new wells and exploring the potential of a small portable desalination plant in the long term.

In Muir Beach, the local water supplier enacted a 25% conservation mandate on July 12 for the nearly 340 residents it serves.

“This is the earliest we have gone to our mandatory conservation,” said Mary Halley, manager of the Muir Beach Community Services District. “Last year, it didn’t even get triggered until mid-September. Sometimes it won’t be until October or November.”

The small coastal community relies entirely on groundwater pumped alongside Redwood Creek. The district is able to store about 300,000 gallons at a time in two water tanks, which is enough to last about two to three weeks of demand.

When the district enacts mandatory conservation measures is determined by Redwood Creek. The mandate takes effect once the creek starts to dry to the point that it is no longer a continuous flow but instead disconnects into pools.

The district regularly monitors its wells and is currently installing a system that will allow it to do so automatically rather than manually, Halley said. How much longer the groundwater supplies will last is unclear, however, and the district will adapt to changes as needed, Halley said.

“We’re all in really new territory here if we don’t get rain this winter,” Halley said.



Source link

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *