The Marin Post

The Voice of the Community

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After decades of mismanagement, MMWD blames its customers

The following letter has been sent to the Board of Directors of the Marin Municipal Water District, reprimanding them for their failure to properly plan for drought conditions and demanding that they immediately implement a plan to increase Marin's water supply.

Dear MMWD board members,

Marin County residents face the increasingly dire prospect of MMWD’s lack of ability to provide water. After decades of warnings about drought, it is beyond outrageous for MMWD to get to the point that it may run out of water, within a year. Meanwhile, MMWD’s idea of planning appears to be praying for rain and threatening the customers they are highly paid to serve.

Scientists have been telling us for years that the West and California, in particular, have entered into a long-term, climate change-induced drought cycle. Has MMWD been listening? A water agency is not like other utilities. Water is life, not a luxury. As managers of our water agency, you must plan far into the future: not just for next year.

MMWD's glaring failure to do so over the past decade is now leading to potentially catastrophic consequences.

MMWD has failed to fulfill its primary responsibility

I’ve been a Marin resident and MMWD customer since 1993. Lack of water has always been a fact of life in Marin since I’ve been here and actually for more than a half a century. So, what has MMWD been doing about it for all these years?

This answer is pretty much nothing.

Unlike many other places in the state, like Los Angeles, which has even less local water than we do but doesn’t need any restrictions this summer, what has MMWD done about:

You’ve been “talking” about rebuilding/reopening the Richmond Bridge pipeline to get us emergency access to water, for years now. “Talking” about it? That should have been put in place and operational, years ago, when everyone realized that this prolonged 100-year drought cycle was upon us. A guaranteed ability to provide water and have a backup plan in place is not optional.

Why wasn’t that done?

But now, when it’s all down to the wire, instead of apologizing for its ineptitude and putting all hands on deck to get us more water, you turn on your customers and threaten them with fines and even their ability to have water.

Shifting the blame for MMWD’s water management failure

I live in a four-bedroom, two-bath house on a 50 by 100 lot. I have invested heavily in state-of-the-art appliances, fixtures, equipment, and piping (e.g., instant hot at the tap so no water is “run” until it gets warm), and installation of timed and monitored outdoor watering for my yards, garden, and trees.

My water bill over the past two years has averaged $30 per month. Please tell me, how much less water am I supposed to use until my home becomes uninhabitable and my plants and trees all die?

MMWD is now threatening to fine residents as much as $1,000 per violation, if they use “too much” water, even though the agency has no way to accurately assess what that is in real-time or to properly evaluate if that water use was necessary or not.

According to recent Marin IJ reporting, MMWD is now even threatening to “cut off” residential water service, entirely, to violators. But, how will MMWD define “too much?” And worse, how is a customer supposed to know, in real-time, when they are using too much?

We can’t because MMWD has failed to offer any technology to allow us to do that. The technology to have wireless meters and real-time readouts of water use presented on the Internet has been available for more than a decade. Yet, MMWD is willing to intentionally make their customer’s homes uninhabitable as a solution to a drought that residents did not cause and a lack of water capacity that MMWD has failed to properly anticipate and plan for.

Do you really think that is a responsible way to conduct a public agency?

MMWD’s failure to consider COVID reopening impacts.

MMWD is whining about the fact that Marin water usage has not dropped fast enough in the past few weeks since it announced its new water restrictions. But, MMWD fails to consider a national phenomenon that we are currently experiencing in the aftermath of the COVID pandemic.

The whole financial world is currently panicking about recent bursts of inflation sweeping the world due to supply chain shortages and economic bottlenecks resulting from the huge reopening of our global economy. This phenomenon also relates directly to water use.

As a case and point, contractors just began a necessary repair/restoration project on my house that was scheduled over 2 years ago! That’s how long it took to get on the contractor’s schedule and wait it out during the pandemic until all his workers were vaccinated (his professional policy). My water bill will be above its average just this month.

Think about how many other people and businesses are also now suddenly having this happen as an explosion of pent-up activity and deferred maintenance startup.

The bottom line

The buck stops at MMWD's door. As its board, you have failed to properly manage the resources you are stewards of, failed to make the kind of investments in technology and infrastructure required to deal with inevitable long-term drought conditions, and let the situation get so far out of control that you now see no options other than to threaten your customers.

MMWD’s job is to provide water to its ratepayers and to be able to do so at all times. Your recent actions and threats stand as evidence of your immense failure to carry out your fiduciary duties.

While MMWD obsesses about having enough water for “next year,” science is telling us that drought is probably a permanent fact of our future. That is what you need to be focusing on.

MMWD needs to get in gear and find Marin customers more water, right now!

Bob Silvestri is a 28-year resident of Mill Valley and founder and president of Community Venture Partners, a 501(c)(3) nonprofit community organization.