We don’t have to see the lowering water level at the Soulajule Reservoir to be aware that this year’s rainy season fell far short of what we need.
Across the county, umbrellas and rain gear didn’t get much use.
And hope that we might get some late-season rain also disappointed.
We’ve been here before. Longtime residents can recall several droughts when they faced conservation orders from Marin’s water agencies.
Local rainfall has amounted to 20 inches, about 43% of Marin’s annual average.
The Marin Municipal Water District is likening this year’s rainfall levels to those of the 1976-77 drought when residents, schools and businesses faced long-term rationing.
MMWD is proposing mandatory conservation measures, starting May 1, when consumers would be required to limit outdoor watering to one day per week.
Consumers in MMWD and the North Marin Water District, Marin’s two largest water agencies, have a long history of conserving water. It is sort of a local ethic. For many, that keen awareness dates back to living through the 1976-77 drought when household water use was rationed to the level of 49 gallons per person, 57% less than the amount that was normally used.
People were taking showers with buckets and using that water for their plants or to flush their toilets. Some rigged up ways to capture “grey water” from their washing machine.
Residents were not allowed to re-fill their swimming pools and ranchers had to have water trucked in for their livestock.
That experience helped turn conservation into a norm for many Marin residents.
Low-flow toilets, water-conservation washing machines and dishwashers and conservation-minded watering have helped Marin preserve its water supply. Tapping Lake Sonoma has also helped MMWD and NMWD keep up with local demand.
But even with that water supplementing our local reservoirs, we are going to need to conserve — and we need to begin sooner than later.
MMWD’s first measure is to reduce outdoor watering, with a target of reducing water use by 40% from May to October, when hopefully rainfall will return to normal.
That will mean, among other measures, strict limits on the days when outdoor watering is allowed, prohibiting power washing of buildings and homes, no refilling of pools and hot tubs, and washing vehicles using hoses with shutoff nozzles.
These measures will include enforcement and possible fines.
North Marin, which already has conservation regulations in place, is considering additional limits. Its records show that rainfall at its Stafford Lake reservoir has been just about 8 inches since July, the lowest amount since 1916, when the recording of its rainfall levels began.
We are headed into several seasons when we are all going to be a lot more cognizant about saving water.
Local water officials also need to be cognizant of the impacts of these measures and be ready to make reasonable adjustments. Key to overall success will be widespread public awareness.