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MMWD needs to consider more about water-use restrictions than just counting gallons

The following letter was sent to the Board of Directors of the Marin Municipal Water District with regard to the newly approved water-use restrictions for residential properties.


Dear MMWD Board,

The new drought Water Use Restrictions approved by MMWD, so far, seem reasonable, adequate, and can be practically implemented. I would ask, though, that you please add the filling private swimming pools as another restriction. I see no good reason why private swimming pools should continue to have unrestricted use of water.

Concerning additional watering restrictions for yards and landscaping for single-family homes, I would ask that you do not make them more restrictive than you already have because any further restrictions on residential landscape watering would be counter-productive and could have significant negative impacts.

The “once a week” watering proposal is a sledgehammer approach that will ultimately not save water but instead increase water use, soil degradation, wildfire risk, and wildfire severity.

Allowing soils to dry out, greatly increases erosion and reduces the soil’s ability to retain water and support life, which creates a vicious cycle of topsoil loss and microbiological degradation that exacerbates the impacts of drought, and results in more seasonal flooding in the winter months.

Significant effort and investment

Many of us have installed very low flow fixtures, new water-saver appliances (washer, dishwasher), and continue to use water, carefully. Like so many others, we have also spent thousands of dollars (and hours) in creating sustainable landscaping, installing timed drip irrigation systems, and planting indigenous and drought-resistant species. This was not done just for aesthetic reasons but to do our part to conserve water in the long run. To fail to value that effort would be grossly inequitable.

Our home garden includes vegetable beds, berry bushes, and fruit trees, all of which provide a precious food source (at least at our house). Many single-family parcels also contain a significant number of our bee-friendly, flowering plants, and habitat for salamanders, garden snakes, birds, and other important critters.

Promoting prudent water use

As noted, the “once a week watering” proposal is a counter-productive idea. It will promote and increase using water, wastefully, because people will tend to over-water their dried out and wilted plants to compensate. This will not benefit plantings and will only lead to increased runoff because the lack of regularly administered water results in soil hardening and severe damage to the plant/soil's health and ecological balance, causing it to lose its absorption capacity.

Regularly monitored watering for short periods of time (sprinkler, drip, and deep watering trees, every 2 or 3 days) is a superior and more efficient way to nurture plantings to ensure that the vast majority of the water is absorbed and utilized efficiently. Regular monitored watering will result in less water use, overall than severe “once a week” restrictions.

Invaluable environmental resources

Well-tended and cultivated landscaping and gardens constitute an important environmental resource. Consider that in the developed areas of Marin towns, the vast majority of carbon-sequestering and water-capturing plants and trees are on private, single-family land. A failure to water landscaping regularly results in long-lasting, negative, ecological impacts, dying landscaping, and degradation of soil health, micro-biology, and essential micro-organisms (bacteria, fungi, worms, etc.). This makes the soil capable of supporting flora and fauna. Soil health and the plantings it supports provide essential land stability and erosion control in addition to the carbon sequestering and producing the oxygen we breathe.

Our under-appreciated, suburban ecosystem of soil, fungi, micro-organisms, rootlets, and fiber fascicles that create an interconnected web of exchange of sugars and proteins between all varieties of trees and plant life, underground, can be severely damaged by lack of water. This essential ecosystem takes many years to regenerate once it is shocked and dies off.

Wildfire protections

The “once a week” proposal and the resultant drying out of the soil and damage to planting root systems will increase wildfire risk and severity. As was evident in the aftermath of the major wildfires of last year, yards with adequately cleared of underbrush and detritus, and with well-watered plantings had a valuable buffer against wildfires getting too close and igniting homes.

As reported in the Marin IJ, in an article about how to prepare for the wildfire season, written by UC Cooperative Extension, the University of California Marin Master Gardeners noted that engineered drip watering systems and timed sprinklers are the best methods to control water use while maintaining healthy plants that are essential to fire suppression. It went on to say that “Plants should be properly irrigated and maintained to remove dead or dry material. With this year’s drought, prioritize mature shrubs and trees for watering.” [Emphasis added]

Conclusion

Our residential, landscaped ecosystems are not simply decorative nor can they be disregarded, thoughtlessly. Science tells us that our landscaping is an essential part of our natural water cycle and overall environmental health that must be protected just like our homes.

In making its decisions about water use restrictions, MMWD should carefully consider that in the long run, much more is at stake than just moving water through pipes and counting gallons. Protecting our local ecology from degradation is a top priority. Taking long showers and filling swimming pools are not.

Thank you for your time and consideration.


Bob Silvestri is a Marin County resident and the founder and president of Community Venture Partners, a 501(c)(3) nonprofit community organization funded by individuals and nonprofit donors. Please consider DONATING TO CVP to enable us to continue to work on behalf of California residents.