County helps Dillon Beach describe its water story

11/15/2018

It was a packed house in the Coastal Kitchen on Tuesday night as residents of Dillon Beach discussed their water needs. The meeting, designed to help the county and the village create a “community water story”—concerning everything from water supply to septic systems and sea-level rise—was funded by a grant from California’s Department of Water Resources that targets water resource planning and decision making in rural communities. It also kicked off a three-month window during which the county’s Community Development Agency is focusing on Dillon Beach before it turns its attention to Point Reyes Station early next year.

“We want to hear narratives in these communities and hear what their issues really are,” said Lorene Jackson, a project manager in the division. 

The money for the meetings comes from Proposition 1, a $510 million planning effort to support local communities in their water resource planning. Within the Bay Area, 10 percent of Prop. 1 funds are set aside for isolated, low-density or disadvantaged communities. 

When Marin officials looked to the areas of the county that could qualify for such funding, it identified Dillon Peach and Point Reyes Station. The county applied for a $49,000 grant in September 2017 to identify water-related issues in those communities and projects that could meet their needs. The funding came through in July. 

Since then, Ms. Jackson said, the county has been gathering background information on the areas. In Dillon Beach, the county identified four separate districts: Lawson’s Landing; the Dillon Beach Resort; the subdivision of Oceana Marin, which gets its water from North Marin Water District; and the village. 

The concerns raised by residents included the use of water by visitors patronizing the area’s short-term rentals, a need for better runoff maintenance, more in-depth beach water quality monitoring, the replacement and maintenance of old water lines, and addressing a sewage leak on the corner of North Street and Ocean View. 

A few people said they wanted water in their washing machines that wouldn’t leave spots and stains; Dillon Beach resident Jan McHale said she has gotten rust on her clothes while washing them. Someone passed on an anecdote about a friend getting a flood of brown water while trying to fill up a hot tub.  

At the end of the meeting, residents voted on the issues that were most important to them. Maddie Duda, a program associate at the Environmental Justice Coalition for Water—which is administering the grant funding—said the top issues appeared to be a demand for greater information about water quality, concern about fire flow from fire hydrants, the high price of water, and the chlorinated taste of water. 

Darin McCosker from Cal Water, the company that delivers water to the village, addressed a few of the residents’ concerns and encouraged people to contact the agency when they noticed poor water quality or other issues. 

He explained that although water rates were high, Cal Water was consolidating the community’s connections with another district in efforts to lower rates. He also told residents that Cal Water is applying for activated carbon vessels for the its treatment plant. If the California Public Utilities Commission approves the application, he said, the agency could upgrade its treatment technology to a more advanced method. 

Responding to concerns about fire flow from fire hydrants, Mr. McCosker said the Marin County Fire Department had tested the hydrants and found their fire flows meet standards. And Cal Water is aiming to further aerate water in the treatment process to get rid of some of the chlorine taste, he said.

“It’s great to see the community come together like this,” Mr. McCosker said. “Safety is priority number one—and water quality.” 

Residents raised the issue of septic systems throughout the meeting, though not as a cry for help. Dillon Beach’s community plan, dating to 1989, noted that the county strongly encouraged a consolidated sewage system for the town. Ms. Jackson said all the village’s homes, around 150, are on septic systems, though 12 are connected to Oceana Marin’s treatment system. 

The general—or at least the loudest—feeling in the room on Tuesday regarding wastewater seemed to be, as one resident said, “If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.” No one advocated switching to a sewer system, though a few people said they wanted improved monitoring of septic systems. 

Ms. McHale said her septic system and leach field were working fine. “They do what they’re supposed to do, so why pay 30 grand to hook up to the sewer?” she asked. If a sewer line was put in on her street, she would have to reconfigure all of her plumbing, she said. 

Other residents expressed frustration over the way septic systems hold them hostage when they want to make home improvements. “I don’t want to be put over a barrel by the county when I want to change a window, and then have them say ‘You need to have a septic system put in,’” David River said.

Ms. Jackson said the county would send out a survey to reach more voices in the community, including those that may have been silenced by louder participants at Tuesday’s meeting. The goal is to survey community needs in both Dillon Beach and Point Reyes Station and submit a report to the state by the end of July. 

Then, if the county has a clear picture of projects the communities want, it could apply for Proposition 1 funding. 

“That’s what the whole ‘creating a community water story’ is about—to help the [state] see what issues need to be addressed, and what future funding [the communities] would need to remedy some of those,” Ms. Jackson said.  

Ms. Duda agreed, noting that community projects should be built from the ground up. “Often in social-good projects we don’t start with community first, and it’s really important to start with community and make sure the community is involved in every step,” she said. “It’s efficient, because if you make sure you’re addressing issues the community wants addressed, then you do it right the first time.”