Monty Schmitt is a Marin Municipal Water District director representing San Rafael's District 2. (Alan Dep/Marin Independent Journal)
Monty Schmitt is a Marin Municipal Water District director representing San Rafael’s District 2. (Alan Dep/Marin Independent Journal)

For over 110 years, the Marin Municipal Water District has delivered clean, reliable and affordable water to customers.

To maintain this record of service, we must not only increase our resilience to drought and climate change with new water supplies, but also fund the replacement and modernization of aging infrastructure and work to reduce the risk of catastrophic wildfire on our watershed lands.

The MMWD Board of Directors, bolstered by three new members elected last November, is united with dedicated district staff, in partnership with our customers, to forge a path forward to implement the following actions.

On Feb. 28, the district adopted a water supply roadmap based on our strategic water supply assessment pairing immediate and long-term actions to increase our water supplies. Our initial commitment will develop an estimated 3,500 acre-feet of new water by the end of 2025 through several measures:

• Supply permanent power to enable increased water supplies from Soulajule Reservoir.

• Increase yield from Phoenix Lake by building a direct connection to Bon Tempe Treatment Plant.

• Improve management of water supplies and flow releases through better forecasting of storms.

• Optimize water purchases from Sonoma Water.

• Expand conservation investments to increase efficient water use.

Simultaneously, Marin Water will pursue options to achieve longer-term supply goals – this includes exploring the feasibility of groundwater banking and increases to local surface storage, enhancing local water supplies.

Most of our water comes from 22,000 acres of protected lands around Mount Tamalpais and in the hills of West Marin. Rainfall from these watersheds flows into seven reservoirs before being treated and delivered to customers’ taps.

To safeguard this precious resource, Marin Water is expanding efforts to reduce the risk of catastrophic wildfire, manage recreational use of our lands and protect the ecological health of our watersheds.

Our infrastructure enables us to provide clean drinking water to your taps. But years of focus on keeping costs down has led to a significant backlog of maintenance on this aging system, where some elements are nearing 100 years of use. When old cast iron pipes break, it disrupts service and repairs are more costly. To ensure the reliability of our system to deliver water now and for future generations, we are implementing a program of ongoing, steady long-term investment in our infrastructure.

Foundational to a future with continued reliable water is a sustainable financial plan to create new water supplies, keep our system in a state of good repair, and protect the watersheds that provide our water.

Achieving these critical initiatives requires targeted, forward-thinking investments. That is why as part of our current rate-setting process Marin Water is proposing a strategic rate increase.

In doing so, Marin Water will fund long-term water supply goals while also prioritizing financial sustainability amid reduced water sales driven by drought and impacts tied to record inflation and increasing costs that we are all experiencing at the grocery store.

We know any rate increase may feel impactful for some customers, but we also know continuing to kick the can down the road undermines our water system’s resilience and unfairly saddles future generations with escalating costs.

Marin Water will also continue to provide one of the best low-income bill assistance programs in the Bay Area to maintain affordability for ratepayers most in need. Through the rate-setting process, we are also proposing to restructure our tiered rates in a way that allows customers greater control over their water bills.

Marin Water is moving past planning and is ready to implement these actions and set the District on a path toward a resilient future.

This work must be collaborative, among Marin Water leaders and you, our community of customers. We all ask for your engagement and support.

Monty Schmitt is president of the Marin Municipal Water District Board of Directors. He represents San Rafael’s District 2. For more information about the programs and initiatives referenced, go to

As Reported by Marin Independent Journal

Two recent watershed decisions in California exemplified how difficult it is to manage this precious resource.

Last month, many water leaders applauded Gov. Gavin Newsom for taking quick action to suspend a 1999 environmental regulation and keep more water in reservoirs on a temporary basis. This was a commonsense and prudent move to allow California to adapt in the face of changed climate conditions and severe pressure on the state’s other main source of supply, the Colorado River.

The thinking: Let’s hold on to this water now in case drier times are ahead.

Then the weather forecast changed. A warm atmospheric river shifted course, threatening to melt record snowpack in California’s mountains and send huge quantities of water through the state’s waterways. To prevent catastrophic flooding and operate dams safely, the state acted quickly to release water, creating room in its reservoirs for new flows.

An executive order by Newsom last week suspended regulations and restrictions on permitting and use to enable water agencies and water users to divert flood stage water to boost groundwater recharge. The State Water Resources Control Board rescinded its previous order.

For casual watchers of California water news, the two decisions made just over two weeks apart might seem like a head-scratching reversal. But the reality is that these are the types of forecast-informed, dynamic decisions we must make to manage our water supply.

It’s cliché, but California has to hope for the best while planning for the worst.

The governor and the state water agencies deserve credit for their quick action and willingness to take the necessary measures as weather conditions changed.

The reality is that some laws and regulations about how much water should flow in winter months through the Sacramento-San Joaquin River system were set a long time ago and are not conducive to the kind of adaptive management we now need.

Back in 1999, these regulations were placed with the best information we had, aiming to balance the needs of the environment with those of the millions of people who depend the Sacramento-San Joaquin Delta.

Things have changed, and it’s time to reshape how we think about these releases. Decades ago, California could count on its snowpack to hold the water in storage until it melted slowly over the spring. Now, California sees more intense periods of rain and longer, drier and hotter months. This means we must find ways to support beneficial uses and time the release of water supplies for health, safety, the economy and the environment, as well as build more storage and modernize the state’s water delivery system.

There’s growing and credible evidence that reservoir management should happen in real-time, accounting for actual conditions in the river system. The Public Policy Institute of California last year recommended taking a hard look at regulations that govern protections for fish in the Delta.

As PPIC adjunct fellow Greg Gartrell put it: “Some of the rules are tied to water-year type and are fairly rigid, not adapting to the range of hydrology in a single year. We need to revisit the biological basis for the numerous, overlapping restrictions to be both more protective of the Delta environment and more efficient in pumping. And we need to be more nimble, able to adjust pumping restrictions based on real-time hydrology and biological conditions.”

Newsom and the state water board made the right call on both decisions. Temporarily suspending the requirement to release water in February was the prudent move based on weather forecasts. Reversing the decision last week in light of changing conditions was the right call, too.

The fact that these happened in such close succession exemplifies how we must adapt to our changed weather circumstances in ways that previous decisions simply did not envision. The climate has changed and so must our actions.

Charley Wilson is the executive director of the Southern California Water Coalition. Distributed by

As Reported by Marin Independent Journal

Most Marin Municipal Water District ratepayers could see their water bill costs increase by 20% this summer under a proposed rate plan released this week.

The proposed rate hikes under the four-year plan are significantly larger than those approved in recent decades. District staff and governing board members said the increases are necessary to address several pressing priorities and challenges the utility faces in the aftermath of the recent drought.

These include balancing the utility’s finances after a reduction in water sales, saving to secure new sources of water to weather future droughts and addressing a backlog of maintenance for the water supply system.

“We need to make some changes, not just with adjusting for the cost of inflation. That would be so simple in many ways,” district board president Monty Schmitt said during a presentation of the rate plan on Tuesday. “We are really addressing a number of different challenges that are facing the resiliency of our district to be able to meet our core mission of providing safe and reliable and affordable water supplies to our community.”

“We are really making a really big swipe and a big stride at taking care of a lot of the problems that have existed for a while and not kicking the can down the road,” board member Matt Samson said during the meeting.

A public hearing on the rate changes is being scheduled for May. If adopted, the changes would take effect July 1.

Board members and staff said the new rate model encourages conservation. While a median single-family home would have a 20% cost increase on its bimonthly bill during the first year, customers with the lowest water use would see an increase of about 9.6%.

“To be clear for our customers, what we are asking them is to follow the climate,” board member Jed Smith said during the meeting. “Climate change is the driver here. And as drought kicks in, use less water and your bills won’t go up as much. That’s the clear message.”

For about half of the district’s single-family home accounts, bimonthly bills would increase by about $28 during the first year depending on the water use. Customers who use more water could see bimonthly bill charges increase by $75 or even $220 for the largest water users. By comparison, customers who consume low volumes of water would only see their bimonthly bills increase by about $10.

The district plans to put a rate calculator on its website to allow residents to see how their bills would change under the plan.

The first year would have the largest spike in rates, with the increases being comparatively lower in the following three years.

The plan seeks to overhaul several aspects of the rate and fee structure.

The district charges water rates under a four-tiered structure based on a customer’s water use. Customers who use more water are bumped into tiers with higher rates. The proposed plan would lower the threshold for when customers are bumped into a rate tier with higher prices, meaning some customers in a lower-rate tier could be bumped into a higher-rate tier beginning this summer.

To make up for reduced water use sales during droughts, the plan would allow the district to add a drought surcharge to rates. The utility also plans to eliminate seasonal rates, which allowed customers to use more water during the summer months when water use is at its peak without being bumped into a higher-rate tier.

Additionally, the district is proposing to lower the proportion of fixed fees ratepayers pay on their bills.

The district will continue to provide discounts to low-income water users.

“Equity and affordability are really critical here,” board member Larry Russell said during the meeting. “We need to be very careful that we’re thinking about the entire community when we’re looking at these kinds of rate increases.”

Members of the public who attended the meeting on Tuesday had mixed views on the proposed overhaul.

“I think this is more fair and rewards conservation,” said Mimi Willard, president of the Coalition of Sensible Taxpayers, a nonprofit organization.

Larkspur resident James Holmes told the board that the “staggering” rate increase could come as a surprise to many ratepayers, especially as the district has yet to decide which new water supply options it will pursue.

“I can’t help but think that many ratepayers confronted with a 10% to 20% or greater increase will think that the board has put the rate increase cart before the supply increase horse,” Holmes said.

The district, which serves 191,000 central and southern Marin residents, faces a $20.7 million deficit in the 2023-2024 fiscal year. Bret Uppendahl, the district finance director, said the shortfall is the result of several factors, including inflation and a sustained reduction in water sales from the drought.

“We’re not expecting any kind of miracle rebound in our water consumption,” Uppendahl told the board.

With no changes to the rates or rate structure, the deficit would continue to climb each year until it reached nearly $38 million in 2026-2027, according to staff projections. Under that scenario, the district would need to continue to draw down its emergency reserve fund, which would be depleted in the 2024-2025 fiscal year, Uppendahl said.

“Each year throughout the four-year rate cycle, we’d fall farther behind,” Uppendahl said.

The rates are meant to make up for these losses while also rebuilding the district’s emergency reserve fund, which has about $24 million. The reserve fund was about $60 million at the start of the drought in 2020.

After the recent drought put the district at risk of depleting its seven local reservoirs as soon as mid-2022, the district completed a yearlong study of new water supplies. Earlier this month, the district produced a list of supply options to pursue or study in the coming years, including expanding reservoir storage capacity, bolstering conservation programs and installing a brackish desalination plant on the Petaluma River, among other ideas.

Under the four-year plan, the district has targeted funding for projects that could be completed in the near term while saving up for more costly and complicated supply projects in the future.

The initiatives that could be funded under the plan include a $6.4 million project to connect the Soulajule Reservoir to the electric grid, which would allow the utility to pump water out without generators, as is currently required.

Another $4.4 million would go to create a permanent connection from the Phoenix Lake reservoir to the nearby Bon Tempe treatment plant. Phoenix Lake is only used during dry periods and requires portable pump stations to transfer water to the treatment plant. The process can take about a month to complete before the water can be drawn.

Other proposed investments include $6.8 million for conservation programs; $9.6 million to import more Russian River water as needed, especially during the winter months; reserving $10 million for future water supply projects; and $10.9 million to begin studies and predesign of new supply projects.

Responding to board member concerns about committing to these exact dollar figures, Uppendahl said the financial plan does not bind the district to spend this much in each category.

“This does not tie our hands in any way,” Uppendahl said

Additionally, the district proposes to spend $30 million to address a backlog of maintenance in its water system; $10.4 million on debt service for larger, critical repair projects; and $10.7 million toward installing wireless water meters and associated software. Another $2 million would go toward reducing fire fuels in the watershed and $800,000 toward ranger positions, among other investments.

More information about the rate plan can be found at

As Reported by Marin Independent Journal

Generations of Californians have taken for granted how water is engineered to enable the grand agricultural nature of this state.

Recently, our water system suffered from severe drought and reduced snowpacks. The Colorado River is in peril. Some wells have gone dry. Water has been contaminated. Land has lost value. People have lost their livelihoods.

Such dilemmas are exacerbated in disadvantaged communities. Large Central Valley growers over pump water from wells in direct violation of the state’s Sustainable Groundwater Management Act. Meanwhile, families in farmworker towns go without clean and affordable water. They still pay high water bills while resorting to bottled water to cook, bathe and drink provided by government, nonprofits and labor unions.

Consider the harsh reality of a Coachella Valley Latino mother bathing her small children in water laced with arsenic. Families living in trailer parks need water filters in kitchen and bathroom sinks and showers to avoid contaminants – while working on luxury Palm Springs golf courses nearby where water usage is not a concern.

To remedy these inequities and avoid water catastrophes, Water Education for Latino Leaders, or WELL, has educated 650 elected and appointed California leaders on water issues for a decade through conferences and forums. Disseminating information empowers constituents to make correct decisions.

An array of recommendations – from conservation to desalination – will prepare California for future water shortages. The federal government wants to reduce California’s share of Colorado River water. In recent years, officials scaled back water shipped from Northern California rivers to the Central Valley and Southern California. Local water agencies are urging reduced water usage.

These efforts aren’t enough, even with recent rains. Local leaders must understand extreme water challenges, many driven by global warming. They have the most credibility with voters and residents. People see them at their churches, schools, farmers markets and soccer fields. They are elected to be their voices on public bodies.

This bottom-up strategy among those closest to the people is vital. The times demand fair and sustainable solutions to new realities in this era of climate change impacting water. With so many Americans harboring disdain for national and state leaders, local leadership remains essential.

Latino elected officials, in particular, must understand how water issues affect their often-neglected communities, where so many believe they have little or no voice in the political process even as the social inequities surrounding water policy are inescapable. It is a fateful paradox that while keeping our food system functioning falls heaviest on the backs of Latino workers, they are most frequently plagued by water contamination and scarcity.

Local Latino elected leaders need to be their voice by being properly informed since they are on the frontlines of passing and administering bond funding, infrastructure contracts and raising public awareness.

Hard decisions lie ahead. Water will need to be conserved in our households, businesses, and yes, in agriculture.

Monthly water bills will remain expensive to maintain infrastructure despite consuming less water through conservation. Old broken pipes need to be replaced while investing in new technology preventing contaminants. Agriculture and other industries have dumped pollutants into groundwater for 50 years. Cleaning them up is costly but necessary to tap vast amounts of water in local aquifers.

Finally, voters will surely be asked to approve water tax hikes or bonds to finance increased efforts by local water agencies to manage the crisis.

Water is a precious, life-giving treasure. An indispensable solution is educating local elected officials so they can serve as the people’s champions.

Victor Griego is the founder of Water Education for Latino Leaders. Distributed by

As Reported by Marin Independent Journal