Bo holds off on rationing

03/03/2021

Bolinas residents anticipating mandatory water rationing to take effect March 1 received some 11th-hour relief. As long as overall use in the village does not rise above current levels, conservation measures will remain voluntary, according to a resolution passed by the Bolinas Community Public Utility District last week. 

“We are likely to have the mandatory restrictions kick in, but people are in control of their own destiny on that if we can keep the consumption where it needs to be,” general manager Jennifer Blackman said.

Rainfall has not improved since the district began preparing to ration water earlier this year: The tally was 13.7 inches last week, less than half of the average rainfall. Yet overall consumption is below the amount the district determined was necessary to avoid a dire supply shortage by the end of the year, leading them to recommend holding off on rationing. 

The district is prepared to ration on a moment’s notice, however. Last week’s resolution puts in place a trigger mechanism: If overall water consumption goes above 76,000 gallons a day—or 125 gallons a day per connection—as averaged over a seven-day period, a mandatory rationing program will take effect. Currently, consumption is averaging 66,284 gallons a day.  

Should rationing be enacted, every connection must fall within a weekly average of 125 gallons a day, regardless of how many people or units are on a property. There are 14 exceptions for entities such as the restaurants, laundromat, school and community center, as there were during the town’s last and only other rationing, in 2009. 

If the users exceed their weekly limit once or twice, they will receive an immediate written warning; a third violation will result in service being discontinued, though the board would hold an emergency public meeting to consider the infringement should the customer wish. 

Meanwhile, the district is trying to help customers tighten their belts. Residents can track the village’s water use on BCPUD’s website, and are encouraged to retrofit indoor plumbing fixtures with low-flow devices, check for leaks, discontinue automatic irrigation systems and refrain from washing cars. 

If rationing is implemented, residents can apply for an exception, which could be granted if they show it would pose a threat to health, sanitation or fire protection, or have other adverse effects like job loss. 

Ms. Blackman told the utility district board last Wednesday that she hoped customers would not be forced to ration, but underscored that water use historically goes up beginning in the spring. She projects that in the worst-case scenario, without a drop more of rain, supply would run dry by November if use stays where it is today—and faster with a seasonal increase. 

The driest years of the past seven decades had an average rainfall of 20.7 inches. Assuming rainfall reached that average, the limit of 125 gallons a day per connection would get the village through to the next rainy season. Originally, district staff recommended a ration of 100 gallons per day, but conceded after receiving pushback from community members, some of whom worried about evictions and inequalities.

On Wednesday, board member Don Smith said he was uncomfortable planning for 20.7 inches, considering that less rain would put the district in a worse position. Fellow members agreed it was somewhat of a gamble, but ultimately the board unanimously approved the resolution. 

“Jennifer and the staff have taken a thoughtful and balanced approach here, in terms of looking closely at what our water status is… and coming up with as reasonable approach as they can based on what we know in this moment,” Lyndon Comstock said. “Don’s concerns are entirely appropriate, and I think the upshot from that is that if his concerns come to pass, we are going to have to change what the limits are and reduce them further. We will all be in catch-up mode.”