Marin water measures have statewide impact

In a contest with implications for water agencies up and down California, voters in Marin County on Tuesday will decide between dueling ballot initiatives over a plan to turn seawater into drinking water.

Both measures require a public vote before the Marin Municipal Water District could build a 5-million-gallon-a-day desalination facility on the shoreline in San Rafael. But the measure proffered by a vocal group of desalination opponents bans the water agency from spending any money prior to construction, including funds for permitting, engineering and design work, unless voters approve it.

In effect, Measure T would stop the project in its tracks – a dangerous precedent in the water district’s view, given the potential for drier, hotter years ahead due to climate change. The water district, the county’s largest with 190,000 customers in central and southern Marin, relies on seven local reservoirs for three-quarters of its annual deliveries. Flows from the increasingly regulated Russian River supply the rest.

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