The Marin Post

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Barbara Reedy

Electrification + Conveyance = Water for Marin and Can Save Hicks Valley

In West Marin, lightning might strike twice. In 1979, Marin Municipal Water District (MMWD) raised the level of Soulajule dam. As a consequence, several hundred acres of prime agricultural land in Hicks Valley were destroyed. From 1979 – 2024, the dam was rarely used. In its 45-year existence, water from Soulajule has been accessed very little – maybe in 4 or 5 times.

Now, MMWD is looking to raise this unused dam. Again. This time, they are looking to raise it by 39’, which, if built, will flood the greater part of Hicks Valley. Fragile ecosystems as well as homes and businesses of a West Marin community (already impacted by the first dam) will be wiped out.

Those of us who love this beautiful valley are trying to find common ground with MMWD – a way to augment the water supply for all of Marin. At the same time, we are fighting to save our homes, businesses, history - our community – all of which will be underwater.

Are these two goals at odds with one another? Not entirely.

MMWD has already taken a positive step, working to electrify the pumping mechanism at Soulajule. When this project is finished, Soulajule’s 10,000 Acre Feet of water which has been virtually inaccessible and mostly unused, will become readily available. With an electrified pump house, a brand-new 10,000 Acre Foot dam will have been built without flooding one additional acre, without catastrophic destruction of animal habitats or human communities.

In possible future scenarios, this newly-pumpable dam can be refilled as needed with winter water from the Russian River, pumped over to Nicasio Dam, and on to Stafford Lake from whence it can be distributed into the main Marin water supply. If needed, fill it again after pumping. If the water is accessible, the dam does not need to be raised.

At the moment, there is no structure in place to move water from Sonoma County to Soulajule. Not yet. It is an area Marin Water is actively exploring. Will construction costs to convey water to Soulajule be comparable to costs of raising the dam 39’? Will it cost more than $291 million*?

In Marin Water Board of Directors meeting on 2/28/23, the cost of conveyance to bring water to Soulajule was estimated somewhere between $29-37 million*. Add to this the highest estimated costs to build conveyance to Stafford from Nicasio Dam (around $50 million*) and the total costs still come in under the $290-million-plus* estimated price tag for building the higher dam.

Electrification of the Soulajule pumps plus conveyance is an option that can achieve the two goals – It will significantly augment the water supply (10,000 actual AF) and it will not destroy this beautiful valley.

This August, the Board of Directors of Marin Water will be presented with a ‘preferred option’ regarding reservoir augmentation. This is the time to be open to flexible thinking, to a combination of solutions. All options have been or are being studied - desalination, conservation measures, spillway gate augmentation, to name a few.

Large scale reservoir building as a single solution is too expensive and too destructive. We believe a solution can be found. Lighting doesn’t have to strike twice.

(*Estimated construction costs – these figures estimate only the construction costs of the dam structure or conveyance system. Project management, architectural and engineering, land acquisition as well as other mitigating costs are not included in these numbers. Actual cost could be 30% to 50% higher)

Barbara Reedy

Petaluma (Hicks Valley)


Soulajule, Hicks Valley