Supervisor Dennis Rodoni, Commentary in MARIN IJ 8/01/21
Water supply is a complicated issue in California and throughout the West – even when there’s no drought.
This year’s drought reminds me of 1976-77, when all of us placed bricks in our toilets and made lifestyle changes to save water. Some say this year is the driest in Marin County in 150 years.
During my 20 years on the North Marin Water District board of directors, I learned that nothing is for certain and good planning is necessary to have an effective response to any emergency. Marin Municipal Water District and North Marin Water District, along with the Sonoma County Water Agency, have done just that with excellent water-reducing programs and rebates through the initiative known as the Sonoma Marin Water Saving Partnership.
They also planned for this drought by increasing our recycled water supply to offset potable through their work in the North Bay Water Reuse Authority. In the North Bay, we now produce up to 5,000 acre-feet per year, or 1,800 million gallons, of recycled water. One acre-foot of water per year is enough to serve two or three single-family homes. In Marin, 1,500 acre-feet of recycled water is produced, saving 500 million gallons of potable water. Millions of dollars have been invested in this water option and we can expand its uses.
Both conservation and recycled water increase the supply of water by reducing demand or providing an alternative. What we haven’t been able to do is identify additional supply for our potable water. Using financial resources on raising dams, developing wells or building a desalination plant are often considered when we have a drought, but lose support when the drought ends. And there are tremendous challenges, environmental risks, and hefty costs in undertaking those efforts.
I am a big fan of having as many solutions in the toolbox as possible, including anything that produces more water, but the reality is that we must live within our current supplies short of buying more rights to Russian River water, piping in water from the East Bay or desalination.
So how do we do that? Collectively, we waste a lot of water in our homes, mostly in our landscapes. We often fail to fix a leak, rarely check out irrigation systems for problems and overwater most of our plants. Taking advantage of rebates and conservation has cut our per-capita water use by 35% compared to the state’s 20% reduction target by 2020, and there is still more room to improve.
Secondly, all water districts need to switch to real-time monitoring of water usage. The technological capacity is available, and we must use it. Real-time meter monitoring and other solutions are readily available and already being used in some areas of Novato.
Recycled water and the purple piping used for recycled water need to be expanded and required in every new development. And landscaping should only be allowed if it is served by recycled water, with an exception for food production. This should include requirements to use recycled water in toilets in commercial and large residential developments.
Homeowners should consider installing a catchment tank to collect roof runoff. It takes just one good storm to fill a 2,500-gallon tank. That water should be used for vegetable gardens, washing patios or walkways, and in an emergency for potable water.
Part of being a sustainable community is continuing to provide well-paid jobs and housing to support those jobs. The drought should not stop us from building new housing for seniors, affordable housing for lower-wage workers and general workforce housing. Those developments should be designed to be water efficient with very little landscaping and other outdoor water usage. Right now, new developments in Marin are prohibited from using the potable water supply on landscaping or required to use recycled water if they do install landscaping.
The Marin and North Marin districts say that less than 1% of their water supply goes to new development. This is a small sacrifice for sustaining our local economy.
I think we can afford a small increase in water demand to save jobs, create housing and sustain Marin’s economy. Don’t you?
District 4 Supervisor Dennis Rodoni is president of the Marin County Board of Supervisors and previously served 20 years on the North Marin Water District Board of Directors.