Marin is in the Worst Drought in 140 Years — What We Can Do to Conserve Water

california drought

The signs are everywhere. And not just the “Drought is Here Conserve Water” Marin Municipal Water District (MMWD) signs posted throughout Marin.

The Nicasio Reservoir and Phoenix Lake were nearing pondlike status by March and April. From Horse Hill in Mill Valley to Novato’s Mount Burdell, the vibrant green of the spring grass had already faded to the amber and golds of late summer. Heading into fall after a typically dry summer, water levels remain extremely low.

california drought

“This is the lowest amount of rainfall we’ve had in 140 years,” says President of the Board of Directors of Marin Municipal Water District Cynthia Koeher. “Typically this time of year, our reservoirs are about 78% full. Right now, we’re at 40% with no precipitation in sight.” Droughts are nothing new to Marin and California. But the last drought this bad — in 1976 and 1977 — is hardly remembered by most Marin residents. One thing that’s changed since then, at least, is that the MMWD has adapted, adjusted and advanced water measuring and rationing recommendations and techniques.

“We’re in better shape since the drought of ‘76,” says Koeher. “We’ve doubled the capacity of Kent Lake, built the Soulajule Reservoir and contracted with Sonoma to bring water from the Russian River to Marin.”

But even with these substantial improvements, Marin is dependent on rainfall — of which there’s been very little of this year. So, with no precipitation, how do we get through this drought?

“Our biggest opportunity is reducing our dependence through water-saving tactics,” says Koeher. “We’re very reliant on local supplies, and it will be insanely expensive to bring more water from outside sources to Marin.”

california drought

According to the MMWD, in 2005 Marin residents used 150 gallons per capita per day (GPCD). Now, it’s been brought down to 125, which is a significant drop. But it’s not low enough if droughts are going to get worse. And they will, cautions Koeher.

“We do a lot of forecasting, which involves looking back,” she says. “But what is past is no longer prologue. Because of climate change, we can only predict that weather will become more extreme, meaning less precipitation or more, just not only one way or the other.”

Given the current scenario, individual efforts to save water are vital to making it through this drought, and others to come. The first step is assessing how you can cut back on your usage effectively — something the MMWD endeavors to make as easy as possible. “We’ll send a technician out for free to do a water audit of your house and property,” says Koeher. “This will help the county, as well as save you money.” The MMWD also offers financial incentives to curb water usage. “Install artificial grass, and the MMWD will give you $3 cash for every square foot of lawn you replace,” says Koeher. Rebates are also available when you attach a Flume monitor to your home’s water meter and decrease your usage.

Though it may sometimes feel challenging to reduce water usage, doing our part in conservation will help Marin survive and flourish — now and in the future.

Ways To Conserve

Here are some more water-saving tips from Marin Water. See more at marinwater.org/conserve

Outdoors

  • Replace your lawn with Marin Water’s Cash for Grass rebate program.
  • Install a pool and/or spa cover to prevent evaporation.
  • Install a graywater system that reuses laundry water for irrigation.
  • Install a rain barrel or cistern.
  • Drive your beautifully dirty car. A dirty car is a badge of honor during a drought. We have Drive-it-Dirty car window clings available in the lobby of Marin Water’s offices at 220 Nellen Ave., Corte Madera, CA 94925.

Indoors

  • Check for leaks and fix them promptly.
  • Install a hot water recirculating device.
  • Turn off the water when brushing your teeth.
  • Take shorter showers.
  • Capture and reuse water from your shower.
  • Do laundry and dishes only when you have a full load.
  • Don’t flush the toilet as often. Each flush you skip saves water.
  • Refer to this chart for guidance on recommended water use per person.

More Ways to Save

  • Install a Flume flow meter and access real-time water usage data on your phone or computer. It’s easy to install and straps on to your existing water meter.
  • Marin Water offers free water-efficient hose shutoff nozzles, faucet aerators and showerheads for customers. Email Conservation@MarinWater.org.

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richard wright

Richard Wright is a writer from Marin whose work has appeared in San Francisco Magazine, SOMA, 944, The Olympian and numerous online publications. He has an MFA from St. Mary’s College of California in creative writing and lives in Sausalito with his wife, Stephanie.