PicturePhoto courtesy MMWD.

The recent run of dry months has provided plenty of opportunities to get out of the house amidst the pandemic and safely explore the outdoors.

Marin Municipal Water District officials say that the flip side of this dry spell is quite stark, however. 

Marin is in a drought, they say, and conserving our water supply is critically important as we head into the summer months. The water district relies on rainfall to fill its reservoirs and the last few years have been unusually dry. In fact, 2020 was the second-driest year in 90 years and reservoirs are lower than they were during the 1990 drought. 

MMWD officials are asking all of its customers to voluntarily conserve water, and will be considering mandatory conservation measures during its April 20 board meeting. If implemented, it would be the first time since 1988 MMWD proposed mandatory conservation rules, such as limiting outdoor watering to one day per week starting May 1, among other restrictions. Under the proposal, each of Marin’s cities would be assigned a weekday in which residents would be allowed to water. District staffers would patrol areas to ensure compliance and ratepayers would be encouraged to report violations, according to the Marin Independent Journal.

“Water use efficiency is our most cost-effective source of supply, and we have a range of programs and incentives to support consumers in conserving water, not just this year but for the long term,” said Cynthia Koehler, president of Marin Water’s Board of Directors and Mill Valley resident. 

Marin Water is asking customers to turn off irrigation systems and water by hand only when necessary. Replacing lawns with water-efficient landscaping and installing graywater systems that reuse water from your washer for irrigation saves water and will reduce your water bill for years to come. 

Simple changes—including turning off the water while brushing your teeth, taking shorter showers, doing dishes and laundry only when you have full loads, and repairing leaky toilets and faucets promptly—also make a difference. 

The water district provides rebates and free water-efficient hose nozzles, showerheads and faucet aerators for its customers. Find the latest information about Marin’s water supply, conservation tips, and a list of available rebates at MarinWater.org/Conserve or email Conservation@MarinWater.org.

MMWD relies on seven reservoirs in the Mount Tamalpais watershed, which make up about 75% of its total water supply, according to the Marin IJ. As of April 1, the reservoirs had about 43,500 acre-feet of stored water, well below the average of about 73,500 acre-feet for that time span. It is the lowest storage level for this time of year in 38 years, which is the period that the district has had its current storage capacity.

The aforementioned voluntary and possibly mandatory measures are not just driven by water scarcity, however. There’s also the specter of an ever-growing wildfire season. “California is barreling toward its driest and most fire-prone months, with many locations around the Bay Area and Central Coast having seen about 50% or less of their average precipitation levels for this time of year,” the San Francisco Chronicle reported. “And the time for improvement is rapidly ending, as the state’s Mediterranean climate leaves essentially zero room for any substantial amount of rain or snow once April ends.”

“It’s the opposite of where the state’s fire-weary residents would like to be after the unceasing flames that burned last summer and fall, at one point turning the Bay Area skies deep orange because so much smoke had blocked the sun,” the Chronicle added. “A record 4.2 million acres burned in California in 2020.”

In addition to the insufficient rainfall to date, there’s also the fact that the Sierra Nevada snowpack, a crucial source of water as it melts over the spring and summer, was at 59 percent of normal, according to State Dept. of Water Resources data from April 1. Major reservoirs are also low. In Marin County, reservoirs are barely half full and the water agency has already declared a drought and asked residents to voluntarily cut back on water use, the New York Times reported.


Longtime Mill Valley resident Michele Samuels has compiled a list of great water conservation tips for you:

1) My favorite way to save water and keep plants alive: Collect water in a bucket under the spigot when you run the water to get it hot for a shower. Or a jar/container in the sink. Run the water (into bucket) in the tub first then turn on sink – it will take much less time to get hot water to sink if it’s already into the house at tub. (Unless you have instant hot water of course).
Use this to water directly at roots of plants.

  • If you have multiple people in the household and it’s possible to shower one after the other, then you don’t have to run that extra water more than once.
  • If you don’t have plants to water you can use that water to flush the toilet or do hand laundry or anything else that requires cold water.

2) My grandma used to partially fill the sink rather than running water, whether washing dishes or especially to rinse for the dishwasher. You’ll be amazed at how much less water you’ll run. The rest of these are just regular suggestions you’ll see lots of places. Do not run water while:

  • Washing dishes
  • Brushing teeth
  • Washing face
  • Conditioning hair
  • If you can stand it, stop water in shower while you lather, etc.

  • Only run full loads in washing machine and dishwasher (see previous item about soaking dishes so food doesn’t stick).
  • Mulch plants to help keep water in soil.
  • Water in the evening so that ground can absorb more moisture, rather than it evaporating.
  • Fix/prepare watering systems to water directly to base of current plants and doesn’t have leaks.
  • If you water small houseplants (with holes in bottom), plug a sink/tub and put plants in it. Prepare feeding solution (or just water). Water plants and let them sit for a little while to reabsorbe some of the water that runs through. Then place back in saucers. Make sure you put a strain in the drain before draining.
  • Use wash bucket and rinse bucket (rather than hose) to wash outdoor furniture etc.
  • Make sure hoses and nozzles don’t leak.
  • When I rinse out my French press coffee maker, I use that water on the plants on my deck (people should check how good it is for their own plants). Seems to keep many bugs at bay, and is a good source for what would otherwise be wasted water. I do not use the coffee water inside the house, as I don’t want it to smell like Equator 24/7.