Well run organizations recognize that change is inevitable. They anticipate risks and potential adjustments that may become necessary to maintain their efficiency or to capitalize on such change.
They don’t wait, they get ahead of the problem: they act, not react. This is not so at the Marin Municipal Water District. The district board has consistently failed to anticipate change. It only reacts to change.
This has been true both with respect to the district’s finances and water management practices. For more than 20 years, the board avoided raising rates despite a wide and obvious imbalance between revenues and expenses. Rates were finally raised when MMWD’s bond rating became threatened. Because the board consistently failed to anticipate and acknowledge the financial imbalance, it had no choice but to raise rates higher to make up for prior shortfalls.
More recently, it failed to anticipate the consequences of climate change despite dire warnings from virtually every legitimate environmental organization, including the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration.
Even the 2007 Marin Communitywide Plan anticipated water shortages: “Water supplies would be insufficient to serve some of the unincorporated and incorporated areas in normal rainfall years.”
I also must add the impact of proposed housing legislation for Marin. By all estimates, passage of that legislation will increase Marin’s population by a large percentage.
How has MMWD prepared? It hasn’t. No actions were taken until reservoir storage declined by almost 50%.
Now, instead of exploring new, innovative sources of supply, MMWD is betting the health and welfare of its 195,000 customers that 2021-2022 will be a wetter year. Its idea of planning is to resurrect desalination and the Richmond-San Rafael Bridge pipeline idea.
Some may remember that MMWD built a pilot desalination plant in 2002. Desalination can be a legitimate source of supply for some. But it is very expensive and requires what’s called a “deep water outfall.” That’s a pipe that dumps the salt brine into the Pacific Ocean far offshore. That simply won’t work in Marin.
A bridge pipeline assumes that the East Bay Municipal Utility District is willing to sell Marin water during critically dry periods.
Rather than thinking “outside the box,” MMWD has consistently demonstrated an “inside the box” mentality. District officials should:
• Immediately impose a water connection moratorium which could be modified or rescinded as circumstances dictate.
• Dredge existing storage facilities (which are quite shallow) to increase storage.
• Pipe the 2.4 million gallons of recycled water Marin dumps into the bay daily to Nicasio reservoir. That’s a technique pioneered by Occoquan Service Authority and in use by many other water authorities.
• Hire geological experts to identify potential underground water storage structures.
• Host a conference of water experts from around the country to discuss innovative solutions.
• Research purchasing water rights and swapping those rights with agencies able to connect with the Richmond Bridge pipeline.
As a former director at MMWD, I can say it is a great job. Directors are very well paid, have significant benefits and attend conferences which can greatly benefit their day jobs.
Controversial issues caused by lack of insight and poor management are required by law to be dealt with in public. They are easily handled by scheduling public comments on such issues. But why is this board holding evening meetings late enough that much of Marin’s public is already in bed when the issues are finally raised?
It’s time for a change. MMWD customers deserve much better than they have been getting. Is there anything that could bring about the necessary change? Should current board members be recalled? Can a civil grand jury investigate district finances? Nothing should be off the table.
Richard L. Harris Jr., of Mill Valley, served on the MMWD board in 1993 and was board president in 1994. He is retired after a 40-year career in public finance and investment management.