The oceanside enclave in Marin County has enacted some of the state's toughest water restrictions. Each customer - with the exception of schools and some businesses - may use no more than 150 gallons a day, about 4,500 gallons each month.
A third violation of the order would allow the Bolinas Community Public Utility District to cut off water.
Without drastic cutbacks, officials say, the community of 1,200 could run out of water by the end of April. The town on the southern end of the Point Reyes Peninsula already is drawing from two emergency reservoirs, one of which is effectively empty.
"People are worried," said Jennifer Blackman, general manager of the utility district, which authorized the measures last week. "It's unsettling to be informed that a resource which is necessary to life is limited in this way."
Bolinas, home to aging hippies, Hollywood celebrities, well-known artists and high-powered lawyers, has a decidedly eccentric, independent atmosphere. Residents often tear down road signs to misdirect tourists.
A self-contained water system and limited supply have kept the population steady for decades - which is fine by most folks there. But as California copes with what state officials fear could be the worst drought in 150 years, Bolinas' isolation has pushed its water system to the edge.
One look at the reservoir known as Woodrat II tells the tale. At this time of year, the town usually draws its water from the Arroyo Hondo Creek, leaving the reservoir full to the brim.
But with creek flows at a dribble, Bolinas started drawing from the reservoirs last year. Woodrat II's 40-foot-long banks now are dry and cracked. The water, which looks thick and sludgy, barely covers the outtake pipes. And storms forecast for this week aren't likely to boost water levels much.
"It's August out here," said Bill Pierce, chief water and wastewater operator for the utility district. "The hills are brown - they should be green. The stream flows are a trickle."
Almost every water agency in the state is suffering. Most reservoirs are at rock-bottom levels after two parched years and a third under way. Demand from cities has continued to grow, and recent environmental disputes have slashed pumping from the Sacramento-San Joaquin River Delta, which serves two-thirds of California.
In the Bay Area, the East Bay Municipal Utility District imposed rationing of 15 percent last year. This week, the Sonoma County Water Agency warned it might have to institute 30 to 50 percent cutbacks later this year.
Bolinas' rationing amounts to roughly 25 percent, down from an average of 208 gallons a day per customer or water hookup.
But its threat of service termination stands alone in the state and paints a particularly dire picture, said Tim Quinn, executive director of the Association of California Water Agencies.
It's going to get bad
"People don't understand how bad this is going to get," Quinn said. "We've had eight droughts, some of them minor, in the 20th century. This is the first major drought in the 21st century."
With that in mind, Bolinas water staffers delivered rationing notices door to door this week in hopes of stretching the town's dwindling water supply until December. The notices spell out the process: On the first violation, customers will receive an official notice. After a second, the district may install a flow-restricting device. After that, water service may be disconnected.
Residents also are urged to water yards once a week and avoid washing sidewalks or cars with district-supplied water.
A need for speed
"We know we're going from zero to 60 here, that we're asking a lot," Blackman said. "But we feel we need to do it quickly. That's why we're trying to do so much outreach. We don't want to have to go to dramatic enforcement. We hope we can get there together."
Most residents seem to be on board, although a few questioned the late timing of the rationing (Blackman said unexpectedly dry conditions in November, December and January prompted the emergency).
"The cuts are a good thing," said Gerrund Bojeste, who was sitting in his dragon-inspired art car on Bolinas' commercial strip this week. "People need to create their own storage, be more frugal. You just can't keep running the water while you're brushing your teeth."
Bolinas has gotten the message about wasteful washing machines. Business at the local Laundromat, which has only high-efficiency washers, is on the rise, Blackman said, as more people move away from their top-loaders, which can use more than 40 gallons per load, compared with 15 gallons. The laundry has been granted a higher daily water limit.
Cafe cuts back
A few doors down, owners of the Coast Cafe are not offering tap water - diners must ask. Beverages that are served come in plastic-like glasses made from corn.
"We found that washing glasses takes three times as much water as it takes to fill them," said owner David Liebenstein.
Such practices may become the status quo, experts say, as the state feels the effects of climate change and moves toward a water system in which the environment is a higher priority and people conserve more water.
"Fifty years ago, polices were about extracting resources and the environment didn't count," Quinn said. "Today's policies are about recognizing the value of the environment itself, apart from the economic value to people.
"We're adjusting to that change, but it's very difficult."
E-mail Kelly Zito at firstname.lastname@example.org.