The Marin County Board of Supervisors unanimously declared a drought emergency this week in response to historic dry conditions, taking the step to further urge countywide water conservation and potentially setting the stage for state and federal disaster aid and new tools to prevent reservoirs from depleting, including the proposed $5.1 billion drought package that Gov. Gavin Newsom proposed earlier this month.
The Marin Municipal Water District also hinted at a temporary ban on new service hookups for the first time in nearly three decades, a move that could suppress future commercial and residential development in Marin.

The moves came one day after Sonoma Water, which provides about 25% of central and southern Marin’s water supply and 75% of Novato’s, announced plans to cut back on water imports by 20% starting in July. “That is an unprecedented action and one that we don’t take lightly but we’re going to need to do it this time,” Sonoma Water General Manager Grant Davis told the Sonoma County Board of Supervisors earlier this month, according to the Marin IJ.

“Drought conditions are the worst we’ve seen in over 140 years in Marin. Please take this drought and recommendations from the water agencies seriously,” Supervisor Dennis Rodoni said.

The Marin Municipal Water District is aiming to cut back collective water use by 40% through October, while the North Marin district is seeking a 20% reduction, the IJ reported. To do, the agency became the first major Bay Area supplier to restrict lawn watering to two days per week, require pools to be covered when not in use and limit drip irrigation to three days per week. There are no limits on watering using a hose with an attached spray nozzle. Enforcement began on May 1.

“Even if that very ambitious goal gets met, we’re still fairly dependent on the weather,” MMWD General Manager Ben Horenstein told the board, “but it will help us get through another year.”

The district is exploring worst-case options in the event next winter is also dry. The options include a temporary desalination plant or the reconstruction of a water pipeline across the Richmond-San Rafael Bridge, similar to the one installed in the 1976-77 drought.

Other residents raised concerns about the potential financial impacts of requiring pool coverings, especially for pools that have irregular shapes. To incentivize proactive measures, the MMWD board adopted a $100 rebate for pool covers, increased other rebates and water-saving incentives on Tuesday, such as: increasing the turf conversion rebate from $1 to $3 per square foot through October, offering free sheet mulching provided by local nonprofit organizations to remove lawns as well as a $115 discount on “smart” metering technology provided by Flume and a $50 rebate on hot water recirculating devices.

“Marin is no stranger to droughts,” Supervisor Stephanie Moulton-Peters said before the vote. “It’s time for us to dust off our good behaviors and start practicing modern conservation. We know how to do it and now’s the time.”


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