Rains control Woodward Fire, do little for supply

11/24/2020

November’s rain has notably reduced the fire threat across Marin, though water providers on the coast have yet to loosen their belts. 

The Marin Municipal Water District has recorded 3.4 inches of rain on Lake Lagunitas since July, thanks mostly to two storms this month. On the coast, there was less rain within the same period in some areas, with 1.4 inches recorded in Bolinas and 2 inches in Inverness. 

Although even M.M.W.D.’s higher numbers account for only around half of the average rainfall for this time of year, the wet has made a difference for firefighting. 

“We’ve definitely turned a corner,” said Bret McTigue, a county fire battalion chief. The county has begun releasing seasonal staff, and last week, the National Park Service declared the Woodward Fire officially controlled. 

At the peak of this year’s fire season, Marin County Fire had a seasonal staff of 120 employees; now, the department has begun to draw that down to its winter crew of 20 personnel, who will stay on to help with vegetation management and other projects. 

“The California fire season is year-round. While we have turned a corner, if we have a dry spell followed by winds, the vegetation that is dead and down will burn,” Mr. McTigue said.

Last Wednesday, park service fire management officer Greg Jones announced that the Woodward Fire was controlled, meaning the flames that have smoldered since August had no chance of jumping established control lines. Two weeks ago, the park released the daily crew staffing the burn area. The team of around 35 specialists was most recently focused on suppression repair, rehabilitating the bulldozed and handmade control lines, and attending to any flare-ups. 

While the rainfall has reduced the fire threat, the impact of the exceptionally dry year continues to affect water supply, though some coastal districts are in better shape than others. 

Following the rains, the Inverness Public Utility District eased its restrictions on outdoor water use. The district remains in the second of a four-stage water shortage emergency. 

“We still need customers to conserve water,” IPUD customer services manager Wade Holland said. “The rain has not increased our supply, but it has pushed down demand a little bit.” 

IPUD’s storage tanks turn over the water pulled from local creeks and streams every three days; if they refill overnight, Mr. Holland said they are in good shape. Currently, the tanks are refilling a bit more every night. “Now it’s just a waiting game to see how much rain we get and when we get it. There’s usually not a good indication of whether you are out of the woods until January,” he said. 

In Bolinas, Jennifer Blackman, the general manager of the utility district, said this month’s rains were not nearly enough to make a meaningful impact on water supplies. 

This fall, the district asked all customers to limit usage to 150 gallons per day per connection to stave off the possibility of rationing. The average gallons consumed is now well below that number, at around 115, but some customers are still consuming more. Last week, Ms. Blackman told her board of directors that if rainfall doesn’t pick up, rationing could be considered in December. 

North Marin Water District, which provides water to Point Reyes Station, Olema and Inverness Park, enacted its emergency conservation ordinance in the summer after the abysmal rainfall last winter and spring. That meant that customers had to bring usage down by 25 percent, a restriction that was lifted on Nov. 1. 

General manager Drew McIntyre said the rainfall, cooler temperatures and shorter days have decreased both water demand and salinity intrusion, a problem that exploded for the district this year.