Desalination still on back burner for Marin after votes

Not coming to a tap near you soon: desalinated water. 

Despite voters’ approval this month of Marin Municipal Water District incumbent candidates who supported studying desalination, and a ballot measure to allow that study to happen, the reality of taking bay water and de-salting it for domestic use in Marin remains murky. 

“What we said from the beginning of the campaign is that desalination is not on the table because of current demand patterns,” said David Behar, the water board president who won reelection. “That has not changed.”

In April the water board voted to suspend further investigation of a desalination plant until it can get a better handle on declining water demand. 

Water usage in the county continues to stay low: it has dropped 15 percent in the past two years. An extended rainy season, combined with conservation, have helped lessen the demand.

The struggling economy also means less office space is being used and fewer homes are occupied, which has led to a high number of water accounts that show zero water use.

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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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