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MARIN COUNTY'S NEWS MONTHLY - FREE PRESS
(415)868-1600 - (415)868-0502(fax) - P.O. Box 31, Bolinas, CA, 94924

August, 2004

Coming Soon: The Water Wars
By Jeanette Pontacq

You are watering your garden on a warm, summer day and note that you have only half the normal flow of water coming out of your hose. You call the water company and find that new homes built nearby have siphoned off half your water supply. Could that happen to you? Well, it happened already to a farmer in the San Geronimo Valley.

The farmer, who has been on his land under Mt. Barnaby since 1945, has long held the Water Rights to the creek that runs through his property. The water allowed him to operate a small trout farm, a walnut orchard and, recently, a growing herd of Cashmere goats. Then, seven new homes on the slopes above him were permitted without a MMWD water supply. Instead, they have each dug a well to access the water draining into the creek.

The farmer has MMWD water for his home use, but such water is way too expensive to use for farming. Agricultural land is dependent on natural water flows. So this piece of Marin Ag Land is losing its viability because of inattention to water rights at the county level. It most certainly is not the fault of the owners of the new homes on the slopes of Mt. Barnaby. They probably don't have a clue about water rights or historic uses in that canyon.

So what does this farmer do? The State of California, who has demanded that he provide them with yearly documents to retain those Water Rights (and recently instituted a $100 per year fee as well), says it basically has no means of enforcement. Further, the new homes automatically have a lesser right to the water as well. Ah, the coming California Water Wars will be complicated, disastrous and expensive for many towns and agricultural areas.

Political and social signs point to a growing water crisis that can only get worse in coming decades. The 34 million people in California at this moment will increase to around 50 million by 2050. The government is expecting severe water shortages by 2025.

Fortune Magazine has called water the oil of the 21st Century. The CIA expects water to be the cause of international conflicts and even domestic unrest. At the same time this issue is coming into clear view, corporations are being allowed to privatize public water works. It is expensive for governments to maintain and upgrade water systems. Look at Hetch Hetchy and what that will cost to upgrade! It seems sooo much easier to privatize water systems and let The Market take over.

In Montara and Moss Beach (San Mateo County), their water system was owned by American Water Works (a subsidiary of the German utility mega-corporation RWE). RWE was charging triple the charges from neighboring Half Moon Bay and Pacifica. After all, they had stockholders to please! Ultimately, the Montara Sanitary District had to buy back the faultering system at a hugely inflated price. We all need to learn from their experience! As more and more population pressure is put on dwindling water supplies, it is unconscionable to allow The Market to set prices and thus make decisions on who does or doesn't get any.

AND THAT BRINGS UP THE SUBJECT OF THE PROPOSED 2ND UNIT BILL. The coming Water Wars will arrive just as the population in California will skyrocket. To accommodate that almost unbelievable increase in the number of people in this State, the State Legislature wants to require local cities and towns to approve second units in all single-family neighborhoods without public hearings and thus greatly limiting local discretion.

According to this proposed new law, zoning ordinances would be forcibly amended to allow second units without public hearings. The State is already ripping off local governments by "taking" local tax revenue - now they want to control the density of our neighborhoods, towns and villages too.

In addition to the fact that there is simply not enough water available to accommodate the expected population increase over the next couple of decades, let's look at what unlimited second units would look like in Marin. An already-crowded situation would come to look like a rabbit warren. Here in West Marin, we might be saved somewhat by septic restraints, but that is no guarantee. When the population pressure gets intense enough, I could easily imagine the county caving in on enforcement of septic limitations and even rezoning some Open Space. There is already a movement on the Peninsula to use some pieces of Open Space for dense home sites in order to accommodate the workforce.

Further, the State wants to strike down any requirement that the owner of a second unit reside on the property, which would thus allow rental duplexes in all single-family neighborhoods. It reduces any minimum lot size requirements to nil. THE ASSEMBLY BILLS IN QUESTION ARE AB 2702 AND AB 1866. The former is sponsored by the California Realtors Association.

Unless you want to live in a rabbit warren, I would suggest you let Senator Burton and Governor Schwarzenegger know that you oppose these State land-use dictates. After you do that, make sure your water source is secure.

 

 

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