Nicasio seeking crisis water

02/20/2014

The village of Nicasio does not lie far from Marin Municipal Water District’s second largest reservoir, but in times of drought, there is no succor to be had from the neighbor. The town, which is outside the district’s boundaries, relies solely on a couple hundred private wells. 

Now, as a few homeowners are facing urgent shortages, others are expressing interest in a collective emergency water supply. 

At a community meeting scheduled for Feb. 27, residents could approve the purchase of water in bulk; a longer-term solution that would likely involve Marin Municipal Water District is on hold during the drought, and the stresses it is placing on the district.

The Nicasio Land Owners Association has been discussing an emergency water supply for domestic wells for around seven years, but current conditions have pushed the group to investigate a solution that could be implemented as soon as April. 

The association itself formed in 1961 out of frustration with the water district for building Nicasio Reservoir to serve growing development in central and East Marin. Six ranches were put out of business as a result of the construction.

A recent survey sent out by the landowners association has already led to 90 responses; half of them expressed interest in supplemental water. A different survey circulated a year ago received 45 responses. Of those, a few said they trucked in water regularly, and another 10 trucked every three years or so. 

The need for imported water is in part a reflection of the geology of Nicasio, said Patrick McDonnell, a board member of the landowners association and 22-year resident of Nicasio. He said his own home’s well goes through sandstone, a rock with open pores that can hold water like a sponge, but most of the area is a mix of Franciscan shale, which is less conducive to wells. 

Rebecca Ng, the head of Marin County’s Environmental Health Services division, said the county in general is not ideal for wells and that finding productive pockets is often hit-or-miss.

Although residents can buy outside water to cope with lackluster wells, the landowner’s board believes even trucked water could be threatened if the drought continues. Mr. McDonnell said the water supply for one company that serves Nicasio was cut off from its own primary supplier; it found another, but the switch revealed the system’s fragile nature.

Bill Pardini Trucking, which provides much of the water to Nicasio, declined to comment on its current source.

Another board member, Eric Blantz, said climate change could affect the well-dependent community in unforeseen ways, and that it is incumbent upon the community to figure out solutions now.

One Nicasio resident who supports an emergency system said that although she had not yet trucked water, she felt it was only matter of time. “I think it might happen soon,” she said, adding that it’s impossible to know when the well might slow down.

A conversation with the district has been put on hold because of the drought, though it is the drought itself that has people worried. “The eagerness of residents to find an emergency water solution is probably inversely proportionate to the eagerness of the district at any given time,” Mr. Blantz said. When water is abundant, residents don’t feel the pinch to act; when water is scarce, the district has little incentive to spend time and resources to help.