Inverness and Bolinas step up water restrictions, warn of rationing

David Briggs
10/07/2020

Residents of Bolinas and Inverness must take further steps to reduce their water consumption to stave off rationing. Both the Inverness and Bolinas Community Public Utility Districts lack significant water storage capacity in their systems; recently, they put increased pressure on their customers to cut water use and warned of mandatory restrictions should they fail to comply. At a public meeting last week, BCPUD’s general manager, Jennifer Blackman, was optimistic about voluntary reductions. “Unlike these other events we are experiencing, like the pandemic and wildfires, reducing water use really is in our control,” she said. “The BCPUD is here to help all our customers. We can do this.” It was exceptionally dry this year, with only 23 inches of rain from last October to June, compared to the average 33 inches in Bolinas and 38 inches in Inverness. Hot, sunny days have not helped. Compared to the 100,000 gallons currently used each day in Bolinas, the Arroyo Hondo Creek is supplying no more than 65,000 gallons a day. The district has been supplementing with emergency supplies from its two modest reservoirs since May, though it’s not typical to start doing so until September. After BCPUD issued a heightened water conservation alert in June, water use in town dropped around 20 percent. Yet the reductions plateaued in September, as water availability continued to dwindle. Ms. Blackman said the majority of customers are meeting the district’s target of 150 gallons per day per water connection—in fact, many are well below it. Still, 38 percent, or 226 customers, remain above the target; almost all of those customers are single-family residences. “Who are the high users?” she explained last week. “They are long-term Bolinas residents, short-term Bolinas residents, they are businesses, part-time residents, full-time residents, property owners, renters, visitors, people sheltering in place, people with gardens, people without gardens—in other words, it’s everybody that you know and love.” BCPUD staff is working with the high users and offering water audits and help teaching customers how to read their own meters. Should everyone follow the 150-gallon per day limit, Ms. Blackman said there would be enough water until the rains replenish supply—which her staff does not expect to happen until February. If customers do not reduce their consumption, the board could decide to ration water by setting new allotments and penalties. The ultimate penalty would be to cut off a customer’s water. The district has rationed only once before, in 2009. Further north, Inverness is facing the possibility of rationing for the first time in history. On Sept. 30, the IPUD board moved into the second of four stages of a water shortage emergency declaration made in July. Stage two established a new outdoor watering schedule: odd addresses may water outside on Mondays, Wednesdays and Saturdays, while even addresses may water on the other days and no one may water on Fridays. Stage three would cut off all outdoor watering, and stage four would be rationing. IPUD, which uses water from streams and creeks that descend from the Inverness Ridge, has particularly limited storage capacity: its tanks turn over the water they contain every three days. The town saw an immediate reduction in water use after the emergency declaration this summer, though there was a slight trend upward at the end of August, which administrator Shelley Redding said could be thanks to the resumption of short-term rentals. IPUD will step up its monitoring of individual meters in the coming weeks, in preparation for the scenario in which it has to ration.