Marin Water members remain hard at work to ensure county residents have access to clean water amid worsening drought conditions
As drought conditions set in and spread across Northern California, SEIU 1021 members at Marin Water are hard at work protecting their watershed and delivering fresh, clean, potable water to their community.
These workers recently ratified a two-year contract extension with the water district, which was a huge win. For many years now, union members have successfully been able to extend their agreement with management to make sure the people doing this critical work are able to care for themselves and their loved ones. Members are also focused on using their voice at work to advocate for solutions to address the worsening effects of climate change.
“We’re in the business of maintaining and replacing water infrastructure and equipment so we can make sure that we’re delivering quality water and service to our customers. In all, we’ve got around 240 employees working hard to make sure our 190,000 customers have access to clean potable water,” said Mariette Shin, an Information Systems Analyst III and SEIU 1021 Chapter President at Marin Water. “We’re maintaining, repairing and replacing pipes, tanks, pump stations, valves and all other associated water network equipment, managing our reservoirs, managing local streams and habitats, educating the public on how to avoid water waste, protecting the Mt. Tam Watershed and surrounding area, and so much more. It’s important to all of us that our community knows just how hard we’re working to make sure they have clean, reliable water. As our climate changes, however, it’s producing more widespread drought and fire conditions during much of the year, and we’re faced with new and growing challenges that we have to overcome.”
Marin Water is the oldest water utility in the state of California. About 75% of the water provided by Marin Water is locally sourced from the Mt. Tam watershed, and the remaining 25% or so is typically sourced from Sonoma County. Worsening drought conditions have created the recent implementation of mandatory water conservation measures. However, because about 73% of District revenues come directly from customer water use, the District is concerned about the upcoming significant loss of revenues from conserving water. Without the revenues, the District cannot replace and maintain critical aging infrastructure, and that puts the reliability of their water delivery system at risk. Ultimately, the District and its customers will have to pay more in the future for the delays of today.
“We need resources for essential equipment replacement and infrastructure upgrades, which includes all of our computer and business administration systems. They are all reaching their end-of-life cycle. We recognize that the drought has to be addressed and accounted for somehow but it’s a challenge figuring out the funding piece,” says Mariette. “We don’t want to borrow money that the District and our customers will be on the hook for down the line, but our revenue is dependent on people using water. At the same time, we must encourage folks to limit their use in case the drought conditions worsen. At the end of the day, what we really need is to figure out how to get additional funding for fire risk reduction, emergency response, and maintenance and upkeep for our critical infrastructure while balancing that with conservation efforts.”
Additional measures, such as drought charges and rate increases may be required if the drought conditions worsen, in order to adequately fund the work of the water district.
As union members and frontline experts doing this important work every day, SEIU 1021 members at MMWD have been using their collective voice to advocate for creative and effective solutions. Members have been meeting regularly with our General Manager and Board of Directors to share ideas and concerns and talk about ways they can secure the revenue needed to address climate-related emergencies like water conservation and fire prevention.
“As a district, we realize that the drought has to be addressed proactively. We want to get the word out now so that we don’t find ourselves in a more challenging situation down the road,” says Mariette.