Water district GM provides answers to important questions – Marin Independent Journal

Marinites face the very real possibility of another dry winter. Even if the rains finally come, given climate change, there’s a virtual certainty in coming years that Marin will run short of water needed for its lifestyle or county residents will face rationing of life’s one essential element.

I had a recent opportunity to chat with Ben Horenstein, Marin Municipal Water District’s general manager. The district provides water to 190,000 Central and Southern Marin residents while managing 22,000 acres of watershed land. A 30-year water professional, he was previously Santa Rosa’s director of water.

I focused on the possibility of restoring a 7-mile-long water pipeline across the Richmond-San Rafael Bridge. The original pipe was laid during the 1976-1977 drought when civil engineer Dietrich Stroeh was MMWD’s general manager.

Michael McCarthy’s book, “The Man Who Made it Rain,” is a chronicle of how Stroeh, a can-do engineer of the old school, honchoed construction of the pipeline in 90 days, from idea to completion. During the drought in the ’70s, Marin faced an imminent water shortage of a similar magnitude to what can be expected if the current dry conditions continue.

Horenstein says the earliest a new pipeline could be operational — if the five-member elected water board decides to proceed — is late summer 2022. Since its feasibility study will soon be completed, the water board will take a tentative vote in October whether to go ahead with the transbay pipeline with a go-no-go decision in December.

I asked the district’s top staffer why building the same pipeline during the 1970s drought took only three months compared to almost a year today. His reply was frank and all too true. “The reality is that was a different time. Today everything is more complicated.”

That explanation applies to just about every public U.S. infrastructure project. With the best of intentions, we’ve fashioned a plodding process that’s bizarrely complicated. Think “California high speed rail” and the syndrome becomes obvious.

“Where are the drawings for the old pipeline?” I asked. “Why spend $2.5 million for engineering and not just rebuild the old one?” Horenstein’s answer explained how Stroeh moved so fast. “We haven’t been able to find the drawings. Likely it was a ‘back of the envelope’ process.”

The 1970s pipeline was temporary. They just laid a 24-inch diameter pipe on the bridge deck. Today, the GM explained, “Marin is the only Bay Area county lacking a connection with East Bay and Central Valley regional water agencies. That’s why any pipeline should be permanent.”

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