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Marin County Declares Drought Emergency; 'Worst We Have Seen In Over 140 Years'

SAN RAFAEL (CBS SF) -- The Marin County Board of Supervisors voted unanimously on Tuesday to declare a local drought emergency amid what the board's president called the worst drought conditions in more than 140 years.

The declaration by the board acknowledges an imminent threat of disaster from the extent and impacts of the drought which is already affecting dairies and ranchers in West Marin. It also makes Marin County eligible for California Disaster Assistance and other forms of state funding and resources.

Marin along with all other Bay Area counties are currently in extreme drought conditions according to the U.S. Drought Monitor. Last week, Governor Gavin Newsom expanded California's drought emergency to include 41 out of 58 counties and proposed a $5.1 billion drought response and water resilience investment package for the state.

Although Marin was not on the governor's list of counties in the state's drought emergency, Sonoma County – where Marin County gets 25% of its water – has been under a state of emergency since April 21 because of dry conditions within the Russian River watershed. In an effort to protect the Russian River watershed, Sonoma will soon start rolling back the amount of water it sends south.

"It's severe for us, and it's also severe for Sonoma County," said Marin Water District spokeswoman Jeanne Mariani-Belding. "So it's understandable that they would reduce the allotment."

The drought emergency was declared partly with the intent of grabbing the attention of the governor.

"The goal here is to have Marin County included as one of the counties that Governor Newsom has, you know, for his drought proclamation," explained Acting Marin County Agriculture Commissioner Stefan Parnay. "Currently Marin is not included. The goal is to get us included."

Both the Marin Water and North Marin Water districts have declared water shortage emergencies and enacted mandatory conservation measures. Marin County officials say cumulative rainfall figures are lower than they were during the historic drought of 1976-77, and water storage levels at some local reservoirs are at their lowest levels since 1984.

"You only have to drive by Nicasio Dam or Stafford Lake to see the dire conditions we are facing for water supply this year," said Board President Dennis Rodoni in a press statement. "Drought conditions are the worst we have seen in over 140 years in Marin. Please take this drought and recommendations from the water agencies seriously."

The North Marin Water District receives a larger share of its water from Sonoma County than the larger Marin Water District

"I can remember in the early 70s living here in Novato and putting bricks in our toilets," said Kathy Herman of Novato, who fully expects more restrictions in the near future.

"I'm just concerned about people not really taking this seriously enough," said Herman.

"Really, the message we've got to get out there is we can't do enough right now," said Parnay. "People really have to watch every drop that they're using, and know that we are in unprecedented times with this drought."

Marin's emergency drought declaration allows local authorities to aid response and recovery efforts available to the county, water suppliers, farmers, impacted businesses and residents.

Local agricultural producers have affected by both the drought and the pandemic and the county urged residents to buy local.

"Please support our local growers whenever possible," Rodoni said. "We are trying to find sources of water to help out, but the truth is we can only wring out so much water from this dry land. We will continue to support agriculture in any way we can."

The county said ranchers have been importing water by truck to keep their animals alive and reducing their herds. With far less vegetation for grazing because of the drought, animals are eating imported feed shipped from other states at high costs to the ranchers.

Wilson Walker contributed to this report.

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