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Stinson Beach water board approves rationing plan

Stinson Beach water district board passes rationing ordinance favoring residents over vacation rentals
The population of Stinson Beach can swell to 15,000 on summer weekends, straining the town's water supplies

The water district board in Marin County's Stinson Beach has approved a rationing plan months in the making that would give residents in the vacationers' haven an edge over owners of seasonal rental properties.

On Saturday, board members of the Stinson Beach County Water District voted unanimously -- with one director absent -- to put the rationing ordinance on the books, though it will only kick in if the town's water tanks on average fail to refill to 70% of capacity for seven days in a row.

In that event, a 125-gallon-a-day cap on each home takes effect. While year-rounders with four or more residents per household can get increased allotments -- as much as 185 gallons a day -- vacation rentals, some of which host 10 guests at a time, cannot.

Those who go over the limit will be charged steep excess-use fees equal to the cost of trucking in water. They will also face fines after a first month's warning.

The Marin County town of about 630 residents as of the 2010 census has a modest 725 water hookups. But the population on summer weekends can swell to 15,000. The rationing plan drew protests from owners of vacation homes and triggered a broader discussion on the hamlet's changing character.

Year-round families have been leaving because of ever-rising real estate prices and now make up fewer than half the residents. Out-of-town owners of other properties, many of them multimillion-dollar ocean-front or lagoon-front homes, rent them out to vacationers part or all of the year.

Stinson Beach relies exclusively on the western slope of majestic Mt. Tamalpais for its water. Its wells and storage tanks are limited, and it has no reservoir where winter supplies from the watershed can be stored for dry summer months, when demand peaks.

Water district general manager Ed Schmidt on Monday said that the board discussion Saturday centered mostly on education, as the plan was necessary in the event that fall rains don't come.

A push for voluntary compliance beginning in 2012 had little effect. But residents and owners of vacation rentals alike have been largely pitching in ever since talk of rationing began eight months ago, he added.

"There was an immediate 20% drop in usage, and it hasn’t gone back up," Schmidt said Monday. "That’s why we’re in decent shape now."

The board on Saturday also passed a separate ordinance in order to comply with a state mandate that limits outdoor watering to Sundays and Wednesdays. Water districts statewide must pass similar measures by month's end.

Follow @leeromney for news from Northern California.

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