Water supply shrinking (Point Reyes Light, 01.29.2009)

As the Bolinas Community Public Utility District issued a water supply alert on Wednesday due to prolonged drought conditions, other districts in West Marin are keeping a close eye on water levels until the end of the rainy season. Depending on the amount of rainfall in the coming weeks, some will consider voluntary water conservation or even mandatory rationing.

The emergency in Bolinas comes at the start of a third consecutive drought year. The town, which has been in an ongoing water emergency since the 1970s, gets its limited supply from Arroyo Hondo Creek.  It has two emergency waterreservoirs, Woodrat I and II.

“Normally, at this time of the year, our emergency reservoir would be full,” said Jennifer Blackman of the Bolinas Community Public Utility District (BCPUD). “We’re at 38 percent of normal right now.”

If consumption continues at the current rate, the emergency water supply could be gone by the end of April. “Historically we’ve had a commendable response from the community when we ask for conservation,” Blackman said. “Now we must take one step more and ask for mandatory conservation, which, unfortunately, puts us in the position of rationing water.”

At last week’s regular board meeting, BCPUD staff suggested that mandatory conservation measures be imposed on customers on a per service connection basis. At a special meeting of the board on Wednesday, over 40 people gathered in the firehouse. “It’s about as dry as anyone has ever seen it,” said Bill Pierce, chief operator for the Bolinas sewer system.

The board approved the staff’s recommendations to limit water consumption to 150 gallons per service, with some exceptions for larger users such as the school. There are almost 600 water meters in the district, with about half already using less than the limit. A dozen or so downtown businesses, public institutions and multi-use buildings will be asked to make a percentage reduction rather than meet a gallon limit. People can confidentially approach the board for exceptions based on public health, sanitation, fire and safety concerns.

If customers adhere to their limits, the water in the reserves can last until December 1. Customers will be contacted about how much water they are consuming.  BCPUD staff plans to monitor water use and issue written warnings to customers who violate the amount of water. If necessary, the district could turn off water for repeat violators.

“If our projections of creek flow are overly optimistic, we will need to revise the ration allocation downward,” Blackman said. “We’re making an assumption that we hope is unduly pessimistic. A March miracle or late rain would be fabulous.”

Further north, Inverness is faring somewhat better. “We’re waiting to see if late winter rains will come,” said General Manager Kaaren Gann of the Inverness Public Utility District (IPUD). “If the rains don’t come in February, March and April, we may have to look at water conservation later on in the summer.”

Inverness’ water supply comes from catchment basins on the ridge. The basins are made of decomposed granite and act like a sponge for the water, releasing it into the small streams in the watershed.

“We have to look at stream flows to make sure that they’re sufficient to service our customers and provide adequate fire protection,” Gann said. Although stream flows are down right now, Gann said it’s a time of year when water isn’t used very much for fire protection and watering landscaping, since there is usually sufficient rain.

“What that all means is that we keep an eye on stream flow and how much water people are using,” Gann said, adding that the board can declare a water shortage emergency at any time. There are four-stages in an IPUD water shortage emergency. In the first stage, the district encourages customers to conserve water and prohibits nonessential uses of water, such as hosing building exteriors and refilling swimming pools. Stage two places restrictions on outdoor watering, and stage three prohibits outdoor watering at all times. During the final stage, the board of directors imposes mandatory water rationing.

Stinson Beach County Water District (SBCWD) will hold a board meeting on February 11 to discuss water supplies and decide whether or not to introduce any drought planning efforts. “What we’re thinking about is enacting a 50 percent water use reduction policy in response to the drought,” said the general manager, Ed Schmidt.

Fitzhenry, Black Rock, Stinson Gulch and Webb creeks supply surface water, while Alder Grove, Ranch and Highlands wells supply ground water to over 700 SBCWD accounts. A Stage I Alert is called when creek flow is 15 to 30 percent below normal, and SBCWD customers could be asked to voluntarily reduce water use. A Stage II Alert occurs when creek flows are between 30 to 50 percent below normal and customers could be asked to reduce watering garden areas by 50 percent—water can be saved with pressure reduction valves and by using mulch as a retainer. At Stage III, outside irrigation is prohibited and inside water use is reduced.

The North Marin Water District (NMWD) manages water for Point Reyes Station, Olema and Inverness Park. “In regard to West Marin, it has not yet been classified as a dry year,” said Chris DeGabriele of NMWD. “But it’s shaping up to become a dry year.”

A dry year classification could be made officially on April 1 if rainfall is measured less than 28 inches at Kent Lake, which is downstream from Lagunitas Creek. Currently, it’s at about half of that, DeGabriele said.

In dry years, the district’s alternate source comes from water rights on Giacomini Ranch amounting to 433,000 gallons per day. During summer months of dry years, that’s all the water NMWD has available. Should it declare a dry year, NMWD will ask customers to reduce water demand and voluntarily conserve until July 1. After that, there will be a mandatory cutback of 25 percent. “If we don’t stay below 433,000 gallons a day, that’ll require a further reduction,” DeGabriele said. “What we have found is that when we ask people to conserve, they typically do the right thing.”

Marin Municipal Water District (MMWD), which serves the San Geronimo Valley and Fairfax, will also consider water levels on April 1. “We’re holding our breath to see what the level of the reservoirs are at the end of the rainy season,” said Dan Carney, MMWD water conservation manager.

Most of the district’s water comes from its seven reservoirs—which include Nicasio and Soulajule in West Marin. Presently, the reservoir levels are at about 54 percent of capacity. The total capacity of the reservoir is 80,000 acre feet—one acre foot would be like a football field flooded with one foot of water, according to Paul Helliker, MMWD general manager.

Last week, the consumption average was about 17 million gallons per day, or about 95 gallons of water per person per day on average. The average consumption during summer months is about 30 to 40 million gallons a day. If the levels are still low after April 1, the district will ask for voluntary conservation of 10 percent. This has happened about once every ten years.

“You can meet 10 percent by cutting down on watering by one day a week or making sure that your washing machines and dish washers are full,” Helliker said. If water levels drop down to 40,000 acre feet by April 1, the district will implement a mandatory rationing program of 25 percent reduction. This usually means a 50 percent reduction for golf courses and a 30 percent reduction for households.

“People need to cut their watering by half, and we tell restaurants not to serve water,” Helliker said. “We need about 37 inches of rain in Lake Lagunitas, like last year. So far, it’s about 13 inches since July 1 of last year,” Helliker said. “Turn sprinklers off now.”

~ by Janet Fang on January 29, 2009.

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