If the early results hold, voters have just given the directors of the Marin Municipal Water District an unambiguous message.
The public wants water safety, including a four-year reserve – no more kicking the streets. Take action and do it now. Planning is essential, but with the time and money already spent on studies, MMWD leaders must make up their minds and implement the decisions.
This message was apparently only received on election night by expected outgoing directors Jack Gibson, Larry Bragman and Cynthia Koehler.
Koehler chose to retire instead of running for office after serving 17 years. Given the substantial voting margins between the candidates so far, there seems little doubt that the two incumbents, Gibson and Bragman, have been defeated.
The non-partisan election was not about personalities; it was a matter of politics. It is widely accepted that Gibson, Bragman and Koehler are dedicated public servants and talented individuals. Similarly, few dispute that the three winners are accomplished in their professional and civic lives.
The Marin County Civil Grand Jury Report, “A Water Resilience Roadmap for MMWD” was damning and pivotal. Its central point was clear. “Last year’s drought emergency could have been avoided if the MMWD had taken sufficient measures to ensure a resilient water supply. With the growing challenges posed by climate change, the mistakes of the past cannot be repeated. The MMWD must establish a roadmap to achieve water supply resilience without delay.
After threatening to ration water, it didn’t take much to convince voters in central and southern Marin and the agency’s 191,000 clients that change was due. Key voters Ranjiv Khush (on Bragman), Matthew Samson (on Gibson) and Jed Smith (leading to succeed Koehler) have all pledged to get new water supplies in place as soon as possible.
All candidates sought the support of community organizations and leaders to give them credibility.
In the Water Board elections, the support of Marin’s COST, the Coalition of Wise Taxpayers, proved decisive. COST’s objective was targeted: to encourage new applicants who will vigorously defend innovative water sources at a reasonable price.
It’s not just that the candidates on their list, Khush, Samson and Smith, all won. COST was involved early on in recruiting them to take part in the competition. Representative Jared Huffman was separately involved in convincing venture capitalist and environmentalist Smith to enter the race. Conversely, the vaunted endorsement of the Sierra Club fell short of its endorsers, Bragman and Gibson.
Although the role of conservation remains an important element in achieving adequate water availability, new sources must not only be investigated, but also obtained. There are many convenient options. They include raising the height of dams to increase reservoir capacity, capturing winter water from the Russian River flowing to the Pacific Ocean and storing it in the Sonoma Aquifer, and desalination. Whatever the conclusion, 2023 must be the year of the decision, and implementation must follow soon after.
The spotlight is no longer just on the three likely new directors. It’s about the two directors who will see their terms expire in 2024: Monty Schmitt of San Rafael and Larry Russell of Tiburon, the current chairman of MMWD’s board of directors.
Voters’ tolerance for dithering is over. If Schmitt and Russell don’t prepare and work with the three new directors to deliver reliable water, they can either choose to retire like Koehler or live out the electoral fate of Gibson and Bragman.
MMWD is blessed with a top-notch staff that properly follows the policy directions of elected board members. We can expect these pros led by MMWD Managing Director Ben Horenstein to act quickly once the new board sends them clear marching orders. If this happens and steps are taken to implement these decisions, water consumers may soon see light at the end of the (water) tunnel.