Marin added to state's drought declaration

07/14/2021

Governor Gavin Newsom included Marin County in an expanded drought emergency proclamation last week, nearly three months after Sonoma and Mendocino Counties first came under the state of emergency.  

The move opens doors for local water agencies to coordinate their supplies more easily and efficiently and potentially clear environmental hurdles—changes that likely would not take effect until next year. 

In the meantime, the state of emergency serves to underscore the seriousness of the drought. Though the governor’s proclamation did not include mandatory restrictions, it was accompanied by an executive order asking Californians to voluntarily reduce water usage by 15 percent. 

“It gets the messaging consistent,” said Drew McIntyre, general manager of North Marin Water District. “We are in the same emergency situation as our sister counties to the north.” 

North Marin draws 75 percent of the water for its Novato service area from the Russian River in Sonoma, which came under a drought proclamation in April, as its two reservoirs reached record lows. Marin Water’s reservoirs—Alpine, Bon Tempe, Kent, Lagunitas, Nicasio, Phoenix and Soulajule—are at roughly 40 percent capacity, half as full as average for this time of year. 

Fifty of California’s 58 counties are now included in the state of emergency. Marin supervisors did not declare their own drought emergency until May 18. Supervisor Dennis Rodoni told the Light that the board fell behind on hearing a presentation on drought conditions, but said he believed the delay would not have any long-term impacts. The decision allowed Marin to be eligible for California Disaster Assistance and cleared the way for the governor’s inclusion of the county in last week’s order. 

“Really, for us, what it does is raise awareness,” said Jeanne Mariani-Belding, a spokeswoman for Marin Water. She said the district is hopeful the proclamation will help with conservation, but said it’s too early to tell how it could make operations or funding any easier. 

Marin Water is studying the environmental impact of releasing less water from its reservoirs into Lagunitas Creek, an important habitat for protected coho salmon and steelhead trout. If the study shows minimal environmental impact, the district will petition to keep more water stored in its reservoirs this winter. The governor’s declaration, which calls for the state to reevaluate reservoir release requirements, could make it easier for the district to secure approval. 

North Marin is also required to release water from Stafford Lake into Novato Creek. Because of the emergency declaration, “there could be some flexibility to that in the future,” Mr. McIntyre said.

During a record drought in 2015, the state water board instituted mandatory water restrictions that reduced consumption per capita by 21 percent. As a result, Gov. Newsom said at a press conference last week, the state is currently faring much better in terms of individual water usage than it was before the last drought.

“We brought that mindset into this drought, and this gives us an advantage over the last drought,” he said.  

Both North Marin and Marin Water have approved mandatory restrictions, with the goal of reducing use by 40 percent. Several of West Marin’s smaller water providers are considering rationing this summer. The Stinson Beach County Water District will consider fining customers for excessive use in late August. The Bolinas Community and Inverness Public Utility Districts already have plans in place to enact mandatory rationing if use goes up this summer. Bolinas narrowly avoided its rationing trigger last week as usage rose over the July Fourth weekend. 

BCPUD has not yet analyzed how the proclamation will affect its operations, general manager Jennifer Blackman said. But, she added: “I would like to think it might open the door to some funding sources at minimum.” 

Wade Holland, the customer services manager at IPUD, said, the new emergency order won’t affect the district much unless the drought continues into next year. “That’s when we’ll most likely be looking for aid and help from outside,” he said.

In May, supervisors approved $150,000 in drought relief specifically for agriculture. Stefan Parnay, the county’s agricultural commissioner, said he’s hopeful the state’s proclamation will open up additional relief funds for farmers and ranchers, who have been trucking in water and feed for their animals at significant expense. Farmers have allowed about half of the county’s crop-growing acres to go fallow.