Let the Public Vote: Yes on Measure T

In a beautiful and rare moment of political agreement, all the parties of Marin have lined up in support of Measure T.  The measure would require the Marin Municipal Water District (MMWD) to seek voter approval before spending up to $30 million on a proposed desalination plant in San Rafael, a costly, energy intensive mega-project.

Desalination plants are notorious for turning out to be much more expensive that proponents promise. To give just one example, the desalination plant in Tampa Bay, Florida, was saddled with $35 million in cost overruns. And since energy prices likely to rise, the cost of a plant in Marin could easily be much higher. In fact, while proponents are floating a figure of $105 million, the real cost would be $400 million or more, taking into consideration construction costs, operating costs, debt repayment, and increased energy costs.

Desalination plants are also known for being huge energy guzzlers. The MMWD is already the largest single user of energy in the county and a desalination plant will increase that use by 40-300%.  This means that ratepayers can expect a big hike in their water bills.  The MMWD already raised rates because it said it did not sell enough water for their budget.  Imagine what they would do to cover the budget with a much more expensive desalination plant that produced more of what they cannot sell?

The figures above don’t include costs to the local ecology such as damage to marine life from the concentrated salty brine to be released back into the Bay.  Nor do they calculate risks to health from possible contamination of the water supply from the polluted Bay water, known to contain pharmaceuticals and toxins.

Like all previous big water projects, Marin residents should be able to vote before spending a heap of money on an expensive water project. The larger issue is how the citizens of Marin want to address water issues.  Do we want to waste money on costly mega-projects or invest in proven strategies that cost much less such as conservation and water efficiency measures.  We can pick the low-hanging fruit by encouraging water efficient landscaping, fixing pipe leaks, improving management of the reservoirs, scaling up water recycling, installing greywater systems, and using low-flow toilets and shower-heads.

Supporters of the desalination plant and Measure S (which allows MMWD to spend up to $30 million in planning) are betting on a couple things: 1)that Marin residents will be confused by the dueling measures, T  & S, and are hoping that by placing Measure S before Measure T on the ballot it will be more likely to win, and 2)that the campaign of fear about running out of water will win the day.  In fact, Marin has an abundant water supply–in addition to the 7 reservoirs, the county receives on average 52 inches of water per year.

The desalination plant and Measure S is a boondoggle.  But even if you haven’t made up your mind about desal, it is clear that the citizens of Marin should be able to vote before the water district spends up to $30 million more on such a project.

That’s why all the Democrats, Republicans, Greens, mayors, former mayors, vice-mayors, city councils, community organizations, and the 18,000 Marin residents who signed the petition to get Measure T on the ballot are also behind it.  It seems that the only people against Measure T and for the competing Measure S are the incumbents on the MMWD Board and the contractors who would stand to benefit if the desalination plant moves forward.

Don’t by-pass the voters, vote Yes on Measure T and No on Measure S.

With only 3 weeks left until election day, Measure T needs your help! Please visit and connect with us at our website www.voteondesalination.org.

(Also Published on MoreMarin.com, with Adam Scow of FWW in byline)

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