Bolinas lowers rationing trigger, plans process for household exceptions

06/09/2021

The Bolinas Community Public Utility District lowered the town’s mandatory water rationing trigger last week from 76,000 to 66,000 gallons per day. The decision, which board member Lyndon Comstock said was “based on conservative assumptions,” brings Bolinas closer to allowing only 125 gallons per day to any of its customers who do not apply for exceptions. “We don’t feel comfortable leaving the trigger at the 76,000 daily consumption rate,” BCPUD general manager Jennifer Blackman said. “That was going to put us in a very unsettling position by the end of the year, if it isn’t raining.” Because of its small water system, Bolinas often feels the effects of drought more quickly and profoundly than other communities in West Marin. But Ms. Blackman said she is proud of the level of voluntary conservation achieved by the community, which she said means water consumption in town is down to about half of what it was at this time last year. “People have made big changes in order to help the community,” she said. Still, the town’s water usage grew significantly over Memorial Day weekend. “The staff, along with everybody else, was quick to make some assumptions about what that might be,” Ms. Blackman said at the special meeting, but she cautioned against blaming weekend visitors for the increase. She told the board that BCPUD had identified a leak on a customer’s property that coincided with the weekend. “The biggest water losses we’re having right now are leaks that people don’t know about,” she told the Light. “The leaks don’t discriminate between weekenders and full-time people. It can happen to anybody.” Businesses that are already exempt from the 125-gallon limit, including the laundromat, the Coast Cafe and Smiley’s Schooner Saloon, account for about 10 percent of the town’s water use. Before rationing begins, BCPUD will grant more exceptions for certain private households. Ms. Blackman said she estimates about 80 customers are well over the ration limit and will be most impacted by mandatory rationing. Next week, the board will announce a deadline for customers to request exceptions. They’ll need to appear in front of the board and agree to a water audit, during which BCPUD will inspect the property and make sure all “reasonable conservation measures” have been taken. Meeting the ration amount of 125 gallons per day is no doubt easier for people in smaller households; BCPUD will grant exceptions based on public health and safety concerns to households of more than five people relying on a single meter. In those instances, only 20 additional gallons per person will be allowed. Board member Don Smith advocated for the exceptions for larger households. He said some of the larger households in town are made up of low-income residents who wouldn’t be able to afford Bolinas otherwise. “We’ve gotta give these people a break and make it possible for them to live here,” he said. Mr. Smith also expressed concern about the water audit process, calling it “redundant” and saying the prospect of an inspection might discourage people who need the exception but distrust government in general. “We’re not gonna go and turn people in as a result of the water audit, but people don’t know that,” he said. Ms. Blackman countered that audits are meant to help customers identify problems, not punish them. “We have customers requesting these audits, and thanking us,” she said. “I don’t think our customers have found it to be intimidating.”