Point Reyes brainstorms its water story

03/27/2019

Around three dozen locals gathered on Monday evening in Point Reyes Station to discuss water-related concerns. It was the first of three meetings—there will be a second in May and a third in June—that the county is holding to help identify issues in the village.  

Project manager Lorene Jackson identified three water-related issues particular to the town: the shortage of bathrooms, the fact that current septic restrictions dampen enthusiasm and options around building accessory and junior accessory dwelling units, and problems that could crop up in the future due to sea-level rise, such as rising groundwater and increased salinity.

Top resident concerns included the shortage of public bathrooms, the need for creative wastewater systems, permitting standards for septic systems, flooding, and the area’s water supply. 

The meetings are funded by a $49,000 grant from the California Department of Water Resources that targets water-resource planning and decision-making in rural communities; Marin obtained the money last summer to identify water-related issues in Dillon Beach and Point Reyes Station. 

The county hopes to use information gleaned from the meetings to propose projects that could be funded by the Integrated Regional Water Management outreach initiative, a state program supported by Proposition 1. There is $52 million available for such projects in the Bay Area.

Maddie Duda, an associate at the Environmental Justice Coalition for Water, said organizers will be looking for projects that address one or more of four key issues: wastewater, storm water, environmental water (such as bays and creeks) and resilience to sea-level rise. 

The county held two meetings in Dillon Beach, where residents raised issues of water usage by visitors, in-depth beach water-quality monitoring and sewage leaks. Ms. Jackson said a follow-up survey in the beachside village indicated interest in a feasibility study examining alternatives for a community wastewater system.  

During Monday’s meeting, Maureen Cornelia suggested that the county be more open to innovation in its approach to dealing with water infrastructure and conservation. Laurie Monserrat agreed, noting that she had tried to obtain permits for a urine-diverted toilet only to have it blocked by the county. 

Heidi Koenig, a member of the Shoreline Unified School District school board, said she found it “totally unacceptable” that children in the area had missed eight days of school this year due largely to flooding. 

She added that West Marin School—the evacuation site for Point Reyes Station—has neither the water supply nor the septic capacity to handle a crowd in the case of an emergency.

Drew McIntrye, manager of the North Marin Water District, said he believes N.M.W.D. has enough water for the community, but that he was worried about salinity intrusion caused by sea-level rise. (Point Reyes Station gets its water, which is treated for iron magnesium, chlorinated, and then sent out for distribution, from wells behind the former Coast Guard station, not far from the end of Tomales Bay). Mr. McIntrye added that although the district provides water to five agricultural parcels along Highway 1, in the event of a water shortage, that service would be cut off. 

Many residents brought up concerns about the strain of tourism on the village’s water needs—particularly through the need for bathrooms. Ms. Jackson said the porta-potties the county installed next to the public restroom at Toby’s playground cost $240,160 each year to pump. 

“I don’t feel the community has come to terms with the reality of the visitor population,” Ms. Cornelia said. “We can say we like it or don’t like it, but it’s a reality: the increase in number of visitors, the constraints.” 

Ms. Jackson said that opposition to any kind of wastewater treatment system “is typical in a lot of communities: they’re afraid it’s going to increase development.” But she said that Point Reyes Station would likely be protected from further development because of its robust community plan and zoning and development codes. 

Marshall Livingston, who owns commercial properties in the area, said he has been opposed to a community wastewater system in the past but said that, “looking at what’s changed in our community—the density downtown—I’m starting to think it’s time to think about it as the most environmentally sound thing to do.” He also noted that zoning laws could be changed, a fact echoed by Ken Levin.

“A change in zoning is two meetings of the Board of Supervisors away,” Mr. Levin said. “The supervisors we have now are protecting our village, but we don’t know what the future holds. Let’s not be cocky, assuming that just because there’s two-acre zoning it’ll say two-acre zoning.”  

Jim O’Hara cautioned the group to pay attention to the big picture of water quality and supply. “You can poop in your lawn,” he pointed out, “but if you don’t have water, you’re going to die.”