The Marin Municipal Water District voted unanimously this week to rescind water use limits and associated penalties that took effect in December.
The decision on Tuesday means ratepayers will be not be penalized for excessive water use in their February bills, which would have been the first time they could have been applied.
The decision is also the first rollback of the district’s drought restrictions that were implemented last year in the face of dwindling water supplies following two dry winters.
After a series of heavy storms in the final months of 2021 nearly refilled the district’s seven local reservoirs, district staff and board members said it no longer makes sense to keep these emergency measures in place.
“We are in highly different circumstances,” board member Monty Schmitt said on Tuesday.
The district’s seven reservoirs are nearly 96% full and about 120% of the average storage for this time of year. Should no more rain fall between now and the end of September, the reservoirs would be at about 63% of capacity, which would be slightly higher than the district had in September 2020, according to Paul Sellier, district operations director.
The water use limits and penalties were adopted in September at a time when the district and its 191,000 residents in central and southern Marin faced depleted reservoirs by mid-2022.
As of Dec. 1, single-family homes were limited to using a certain amount of water during the summer and winter billing periods, or face penalties in the form of higher rates when they exceeded these allotments.
Apartment buildings, businesses and government agencies were exempted from the limits and penalties unless they had separate irrigation accounts.
The board’s decision on Tuesday does not affect other restrictions still in place, such as the ban on outdoor sprinkler and drip irrigation use through the end of May, pool refilling limits and the district’s systemwide 40% conservation target.
The board will consider rescinding at least some of these rules at its Feb. 1 meeting.
“I think it’s really good that we’re separating it out and taking a very deliberate look at it,” board member Larry Bragman said on Tuesday.
At the same time, board members and some public attendees raised concern about sending a mixed message on the need for continued conservation given the vulnerability of the district’s water supplies made clear last year.
The district’s seven reservoirs hold about two years’ worth of supply while many other suppliers in the region have a four-year supply.
“Stepping on the gas and stepping on the brake within months of each other is not helping to get that constant message across,” Woodacre resident Phil Sotter told the board. “The district customers, I think, will need to come to a realization that the days of washing my car are over and the days of heavy lawn irrigation may be behind us.”
Marin Conservation League board member Roger Roberts suggested the board continue to set a conservation target for its customers.
On Feb. 1, the district is set to consider approving a review of the options it could take to increase its water supplies. If approved, the report is expected to be completed this summer, according to staff.
“Nature solved the short-term problem,” board member Jack Gibson said. “Now we are faced with the long-term problem and that is what I think we have to continue vigorously to address.”
The North Marin Water District is also set to consider changes to water use restrictions for its 1,800 West Marin customers given the ample rainfall. Last year, the district implemented a 25% conservation mandate as well as restrictions such as irrigation limits in the face of depleting reservoirs.
These customers rely on well water in the Lagunitas watershed and use rainfall limits at Marin Municipal Water District’s Kent Lake reservoir to gauge when to implement water limits. Rainfall at the reservoir is at 37 inches, which Drew McIntyre, general manager of the North Marin Water District, said is “well above” the minimum 28 inches needed to reconsider the water use rules.
“Accordingly, we expect to bring to our board revisions to conservation mandates in West Marin for their consideration at the Feb. 1 meeting,” McIntyre said on Thursday.
The district is not considering lifting similar conservation mandates for the 60,000 residents in its Novato service area, McIntyre said. These customers rely primarily on Russian River water imports from the Sonoma Water agency for their supply.
McIntyre said the reason the Novato rules will remain in place is because Sonoma Water’s largest reservoir at Lake Sonoma is still below normal levels. Lake Sonoma is about 62% full.