The County of Marin and much of California has faced exceptional drought over the past few years. While recent rainfall has boosted Marin Water’s current water storage levels, there’s no way to know for sure what rainfall amounts will look like in future months and years. It’s probable that severe dry conditions will recur, continuing to threaten our water supply, which serves 191,000 customers. Therefore, the District is continuing to pursue options to augment our water supply to be prepared in times of water shortages ensuring we have a resilient water system that can respond to changing climate conditions now and for years to come. We have been exploring a number of potential operations and projects for this purpose over the past few months, including the Emergency Intertie Project.
Note: This project page will be continually updated as there is more information to share.
A Focus on Drought Resilience
Even with the surge of recent winter rains, Marin Water continues to pursue options to supplement our water supply in times of drought to ensure we have a resilient water system that can respond to changing climate conditions for years to come. The severe conditions brought on by the drought over the last couple years have only further underscored the need to do so.
The District has been exploring a range of project options, including the Emergency Intertie Project, to help determine which are viable and make the most sense for our community and the region.
Proposed Project Overview
The Intertie project proposes construction of an eight-mile pipeline across the Richmond-San Rafael Bridge that would carry water purchased from third parties to Marin to augment the district’s water supply during times of community water shortages.
Current Project Status (As of Jan. 4, 2022)
On Jan. 4, 2022, in light of the sudden and substantial increase in its reservoir storage, Marin Water’s Board of Directors decided to now develop the potential Emergency Intertie Project using a traditional environmental review process rather than rely on the California Environmental Quality Act (CEQA) emergency exemption for the project.
The district originally began pursuit of the proposed project under a CEQA emergency exemption in October 2021 when, at the time, it faced an imminent threat of running out of water in 2022 due to historically low water supply levels. Following immense rainfall in the following months, Marin Water’s reservoirs have since filled to 92 percent of total storage capacity as of Jan. 4, 2022 – well above the 75 percent average for the same time of year.
Marin Water’s pursuit of the Intertie Project will now transition to a full environmental review process that will take a year or longer to complete. The extended timeline provides an opportunity for the district to not only undertake a thorough environmental analysis, but also allows more time to conduct a thoughtful review of the project’s design and construction plans and expand engagement with project stakeholders.
Background Regarding Previous CEQA Exemption for Project
Despite unprecedented levels of conservation, in the fall of 2021, Marin Water’s 191,000 customers were threatened with an imminent public health and safety emergency due to inadequate water supply caused by historically low reservoir levels. (These reservoirs are responsible for providing 75 percent of the District’s potable water.)
To address this threat – in tandem with aggressive community conservation and water-use restrictions – the District embarked on work to develop the Emergency Intertie Project to supplement the community’s water supply. To expedite the project given the dire water supply conditions at the time, the District initiated the project through reliance on a California Environmental Quality Act (CEQA) emergency exemption in October 2021.
We are not out of the drought yet. Despite the current rains, we are planning for dry months ahead of us. The District is focused on the sustainability of our water system to be prepared for highly variable climate conditions and remains committed to our ongoing work on various drought resiliency projects. This includes exploring multiple options for augmenting our water supply during times of shortages, offering meaningful community conservation programs, and implementing new recycled water projects.
Our current water supply needs changed considerably at the close of 2021 and we no longer face the dire circumstances that existed when we originally initiated the Intertie project under the California Environmental Quality Act (CEQA) emergency provision. Therefore, the district’s pursuit of the Intertie Project is transitioning to a full CEQA environmental review process that will take a year or longer to complete.
The extended timeline provides an opportunity for the district to not only undertake a thorough environmental analysis, but also allows more time to conduct a thoughtful review of the project’s design and construction plans and expand engagement with project stakeholders.
At their meeting on Jan. 4, 2022, the Marin Water Board of Directors approved transitioning the district’s pursuit of the Intertie Project to a full CEQA environmental review process. This action was possible due to the sudden and substantial increase in our reservoir storage levels resulting from above average October and December rains.
Marin Water is committed to protecting the environment and the District is hopeful that the additional time will help ensure all of the considerations for such a complex project are thoroughly reviewed and any environmental impacts are appropriately addressed.
The proposed pipeline would carry water purchased from third parties and will not take EBMUD water or impact EBMUD customers. Marin Water is working to purchase surplus water from willing sellers in the Central Valley.
If the project were constructed, the pipeline would be mounted under the upper deck of the bridge. It would not interfere with traffic or the bike path once constructed.
If constructed, both pump stations would be connected to PG&E power. The pump stations would not utilize diesel generators.
If the proposed project was constructed, all potential impacts to the multi-use path would be short-term and construction-related. Currently, the proposed plan calls for installing portions of the pipeline adjacent to the multi-use path (bike path) connecting Richmond and San Rafael. The bike path would be restored to its initial condition or better at the completion of the project.
A pedestrian-bicycle shuttle would be provided whenever any section of the multi-use trail is closed for construction. Work on the bridge itself would primarily be done at night from the lower deck and would not necessitate closing the path on the bridge itself. Work on the approaches to the bridge on each side would necessitate closing portions of the trail for three to 14 weeks, depending on the section.
If the project were to be implemented, Marin Water would commit to minimizing construction-related disruptions to trail use and would work with stakeholders to understand further opportunities to reduce construction-related disruption.
The short answer is a lot. Following the 1976-77 drought, Marin Water took many measures to bolster its water supply resilience. Those actions include:
- Constructed additional storage
- Invested in recycled water
- Secured additional supply from Sonoma County Water Agency
- Continued innovation in conservation
These measures collectively have been effective in reducing drought risk, but as climate variability continues to increase, these measures may prove insufficient in times of drought. Marin Water also participated in the development of the Bay Area Regional Reliability (BARR) Drought Contingency Plan (DCP), working together with the other largest Bay Area water agencies to develop a regional solution to improve the water supply reliability. The DCP, completed in 2017, identified the Emergency Intertie project as a key drought mitigation measure.