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MMWD’s water production for the period February-June 2014 was 15% lower than production for the same period in 2013. Many thanks are due to district customers for quickly heeding the MMWD Board of Directors’ January 21 call for voluntary reductions in water use. The board took that action just days after Governor Jerry Brown requested statewide voluntary reductions in water use.

The 2013-14 rainfall year ended on June 30 with a total of 33.4 inches, which is approximately 64% of the long-term annual average. By contrast, total reservoir storage at the end of the 2013-14 rainfall year was 90% of average. The near-normal storage levels are due to unusually high rainfall in February, customer conservation efforts, and higher Russian River water deliveries.

Here are the current water statistics:

Reservoir Levels: As of July 22, reservoir storage is 57,524 acre-feet,* or 72.3% of capacity. The average for this date is 63,144 acre-feet, or 79.36% of capacity. Total capacity is 79,566 acre-feet.

Rainfall: Rainfall this year to date (July 1-July 22) is 0.03 inches. Average for the same period is 0.04 inches.

Water Use: Water use for the week of June 14-20 averaged 28.29 million gallons per day, compared to 31.38 million gallons per day for the same week last year.

Supply Source: Last week we averaged 20.76 million gallons per day from our reservoirs and 7.53 million gallons per day from the Russian River.

Creek Releases: During the month of June 2014 MMWD released 200 million gallons, or a total of 614 acre-feet, into Lagunitas and Walker creeks in west Marin.

Water use and reservoir figures can be found on the Water Watch page of our website.

*One acre-foot is 325,851 gallons

by Charlene Burgi

(This is part two of Charlene’s trip to Italy. Read the first installment here.)

Central and northern Italy’s flora was amazing. The dense, lush vegetation filled every inch that didn’t have a structure or wasn’t cultivated for crops (primarily grapes and olive trees in the Tuscan region). The narrow, twisting, hilly roads in Greve guided us through forests thick with brambles, vines, and wildflowers. Each turn in the road surprised us with charming, tiny villages as we made our way to the Autostrada that paved the way to the ancient walled cities of Tuscany.

Stone steps in Italy

One of thousands of steps

For several days, San Gimignano, Siena, Montepulciano, Pienza, Montalcino, Monteriggioni, and Lucca found my daughter Lynette, her husband Jeff, and my son Randy coaxing me up the steep roads, and what seemed like thousands of steps, to reach the heart and plazas of these walled medieval towns. All the Stair Masters of the world could not have prepared me for this grueling exercise! Though my calves were screaming, the desire to explore drove me on to find the artifacts and ancient art I had read about. In every plaza we found a well covered with a metal grate. The steps leading up to each well provided seating for the weary tourist.

Outdoor restaurant with containter plants in Italy

Dining al fresco

What I didn’t expect was the abundance of window boxes crammed with color that brightened up the ancient structures from the 12th and 13th centuries. Within these ancient cities, all the vegetation was in containers. Repeatedly, star jasmine seemed to be the “star” as its scent filled the air. Despite the size of the plants, I was impressed that all flourished so well in containers. One restaurant even created an outdoor covered arbor using containers of grape vines and, you guessed it, star jasmine to provide shade for the diners underneath.

smoketree in bloom

Smoketree (Cotinus coggygria)

The stone walls of the cities sprouted beautiful foliage that accented the patterns formed by stone masons of yesteryear. The fortress walls angled back toward the center of the town. Even though the stone collected the heat from the summer sun, rain could easily find its way into the crevices to irrigate the tenacious plants.

And rain it did! While in Pienza, Randy and I ducked into the Palazzo Piccolomini, the former papal palace, to find an open roof that allowed rain to collect in the marble-covered room below. Indoor plants of all types prospered in this wealthy environment. Upon our return to the car, we entered a beautiful park where familiar Cotinus coggygria (smoketree) was in full bloom, but sporting white panicles instead of the familiar smokey, pinkish-purple that I know. At that point, the sky opened up and we were grateful for the canopy of trees in the park acting as a giant umbrella for these ill-prepared tourists!

Plants sprouting from a wall San Gimignano

San Gimignano

If conditions are right, plants will thrive. This knowledge was driven home to me over and over again as I witnessed the beauty around me abounding in containers, crevices, and other harsh conditions. It drove home the point of planting native for maximum effectiveness. Year-round rain in Tuscany may increase gardening options without the need of irrigation, but the same principle still applies here at home.

Having lived through three Marin County droughts, MMWD customer Anne Layzer has become an expert at saving water—even while maintaining a 2,000-square-foot vegetable garden and several smaller flower beds. Her favorite advice for conserving water in the garden? Compost.

Many people think of composting as a way to nourish plants and reduce waste by recycling plant and vegetable trimmings back into the garden. But adding compost to your garden also saves water by building healthier, more sponge-like soil that better absorbs and holds onto moisture. Plants growing in amended soil fare better in drought conditions. And of course by composting kitchen scraps rather than sending them down the garbage disposal, you’ll also save the water and energy needed to operate the disposal unit.

Compost piles

Anne’s backyard composting operation

You can start composting on a small scale and work your way up to an elaborate composting operation like Anne’s, which she describes as a central feature of her garden and household recycling program. Her backyard piles have a diverse diet that includes food scraps, leaves, shredded paper, and grape skins from a wine-making neighbor. Even weeds aren’t unwelcome in her garden—they’re more fodder for the pile.

Anne jokes that she doesn’t know whether she has a compost pile because she has a garden or a garden because she has a compost pile. As her daughter says, “Neither: They are one.”

Italy

by Charlene Burgi

Poppies of Tuscany

Poppies of Tuscany

How do I even begin to describe everything about this dream trip? First, I sadly left at home my husband Jack who needed to tend to our critters, but I was blessed to be able to share this adventure with my children. My daughter and son-in-law (Lynette and Jeff), son (Randy), and I arrived at our first destination in the Tuscan hills of Chianti at dusk while it was just light enough to embrace our magnificent surroundings. We found the environment to be a wonderful assault on our senses.

Visually, the beauty of the green rolling hills covered in terraced grapevines reminded me of Sonoma on steroids. The twilight seemed to accentuate the villas and highlight the ancient walled cities proudly sitting alit atop the crest of each rolling hill. Wild vegetation abounded in the hollows that were dotted with the orange-red poppies famously associated with Tuscany.

Little-leaf linden

Little-leaf linden

And what was that fragrance? As we departed from our rented car, the air filled with the scent of star jasmine (Trachelospermum jasminoides)—yet there was something more, something I couldn’t identify by scent or sight. The fragrance was much stronger as we approached one of the trees that lined the walk to our vacation home. Large clusters of tiny yellow-green flowers graced the bottom of dark green leaves in the canopy of the tree. Drawing from the recesses of my mind, I remembered the nursery would occasionally carry a tree with these same leaves—little-leaf linden (Tilia cordata). The small nursery trees did not bear the fabulous fragrant cluster of flowers. This new-found knowledge about this flowering tree caused me to regret that more of these trees did not find their way into Marin! The next day, we drove a few miles to the tiny town, Greve, where an alley of linden trees further confirmed the need to share and praise its beauty with you!

Fruiting Mulberry

Fruiting mulberry

It goes without saying that our sense of taste was also enriched. Fresh fruit and vegetables were plentiful and locally grown. I failed to mention that one of the trees leading to the door of our vacation home was laden with a type of sweet berry. The big heart-shaped leaves on the tree were a dead giveaway that the tree was a fruiting mulberry (Morus alba). Typically found in Marin are the fruitless mulberry trees that play havoc on sidewalks with their shallow root systems. However, the marble gravel walk to the doorway was not jeopardized by these roots, and the berries were delicious as we sampled from this big tree.

Our first dinner in Tuscany continued to shock our senses—specifically Jeff’s senses as the proprietor suggested he try an aperitif made at their establishment. To date, we all continue to howl remembering Jeff’s expression as he indulged in what appeared to be a green slime liquid. After imbibing, however, he stated it was an amazing drink. We were all taken aback when told the drink was made from the leaf material of the hedge surrounding the outdoor patio. Our hostess, struggling with our lack of understanding in Italian, quickly departed from the restaurant and returned with leaf in hand—Grecian laurel (Laurus nobilis)—the true bay leaf that is called for in our recipes.

Tuscany countryside

View from the bedroom window in Tuscany

That night, we all turned in anticipating what the next day would bring. Little did we realize we would soon experience the screaming calf muscles that would result from traversing the steep hills and clambering up countless steps to explore all Tuscany held in store for us. I fell asleep that first night to the sound of perhaps a nightingale or mockingbird. My senses were still on overload but too tired to identify the lovely song.

More to follow next week.

by Andrea Williams

This is installment six of a 12-part series on grasses. Read the previous installment here.

Even though I’m a cat person, every February I love to watch the two-day spectacle of the Westminster Kennel Club Dog Show. I’m just a taxonomist at heart, and I enjoy spotting the subtle differences between the American foxhound, Harrier, and English foxhound; or how the different groups came to be and why the Non-Sporting group is such a mish-mosh of breeds. But there are also the subtle cautions offered by announcer David Freese that make me think of gardening: Know your breed and pick the one that’s right for you, and don’t buy into the “fad” or “popular” breeds (e.g., dalmations after “101 Dalmations” came out, or whatever breed wins the WKC). And that brings me to pampas grass (Cortaderia sp.).

Jubata patch in slide area off Hoo-Koo-E-Koo on Mt. Tamalpais

Jubata patch in slide area off Hoo-Koo-E-Koo on Mt. Tamalpais

California’s pampas grasses are two very similar-looking but reproductively different species, and just like irresponsible breeders can churn out sick dogs to capitalize on a fad, irresponsible or ignorant plant breeders can inadvertently introduce pest plants or diseases in trying to create or capitalize on a fad. According to this excellent article in the 2004 Cal-IPC news, pampas grass (C. selloana) was originally brought up from the South American pampas for its striking inflorescences. The white, fluffy plumes are only produced by the female plant; the male plant’s plumes are darker and thinner. So for a while, only female plants were planted and exported, and no spreading could happen without the males. But fads catch on, and inevitably the male plants made their way into the world, as did the similar-looking purple pampas grass (or as I prefer to call it, jubata grass, C. jubata). Jubata grass, nearly opposite the outcross-dependent pampas grass, is apomictic—seeds form from the female ovules without fertilization. This allows it, like the also-apomictic and wind-dispersed dandelion (Taraxacum officinale), to establish new colonies over long distances and take advantage of disturbances.

Most of what we have in Marin is jubata grass; proper pampas grass is mostly strictly coastal, and found in San Mateo and Southern California (although the Richmond-San Rafael Bridge corridor is an excellent spot to see both species side-by-side). Because of its need to outcross, pampas grass can be slower to establish since the winds of chance need to blow both male and female plants within pollination distance. But that also means it may be able to adapt to changes and eventually invade more areas. The hare to pampas’ tortoise, jubata grass quickly covers disturbed and difficult-to-reach sites such as roadcuts and landslides. We try to keep on top of our populations on Tam, and have managed to mostly keep it contained in a few sites and prevent seeding. The good news is, although the seeds are numerous and far-slung—over 1,000,000 per plant traveling many miles on the breeze—they are short-lived, usually only a year. So once the adults are treated and re-invasion of bare ground is minimized, the follow-up is minimal. Better, though, if we’d had an ounce of forethought and prevention a century ago, and not introduced such an aggressive breed.

Don’t plant a pest: Ornamental grasses of the Bay Area region (California Invasive Plant Council)

An aside/post-script: Speaking of capitalizing on fads, a recently invading ornamental (Erigeron karvinskianus) that used to be called “Mexican fleabane” is now being called “Santa Barbara daisy” and people are buying and planting thinking it’s a California native … which it’s not!

 

Marin County FairOur partners Marin Master Gardeners will be at the Marin County Fair today through Sunday with lots of great advice and resources for gardening in a drought. Drop by the “Potting Shed” to learn about designing low-water-use landscapes, water-wise edible gardening, and much more! Check out the schedule of activities.

The fair is open daily 11 a.m. – 11 p.m., July 2 – 6, at the county fairgrounds at 10 Avenue of the Flags in San Rafael.

Can’t make it to the fair? Marin Master Gardeners will come to you! Sign up for a Marin-Friendly Garden Walk at your home and get personalized, water-wise tips for a beautiful, healthy landscape. Watch the video below to learn more about the walks, then call 415-473-4204 to schedule your free appointment.

 

MMWD 2014 Annual Water Quality ReportThe Marin Municipal Water District (MMWD) has released its 2014 Annual Water Quality Report, which shows that the water provided by MMWD continues to meet or surpass all state and federal health regulations. The report summarizes the results of thousands of water quality analyses conducted by MMWD from January-December 2013.

The report is available on our website at marinwater.org/2014AWQR. Printed copies of the report can be requested by calling the district’s Water Quality Lab at 415-945-1550.

MMWD takes numerous steps to ensure that the drinking water we deliver to customers is of high quality, from managing and protecting our watershed lands, to employing proven treatment methods, to vigilant monitoring. Each year MMWD conducts more than 120,000 water quality tests from watershed to faucet, including process control testing at the treatment plants as well as laboratory testing.

MMWD reports the water quality information annually in compliance with requirements established by the California Department of Public Health and the US Environmental Protection Agency (EPA). The state and federal regulations require drinking water suppliers to test for 125 contaminants and to include in the report the test results for any contaminants found and at what levels. This past year we also tested for an additional 28 unregulated compounds as part of the Unregulated Contaminant Monitoring program administered by the EPA.

MMWD provides high-quality drinking water to 186,000 customers in central and southern Marin County. About 75 percent of our water supply comes from rainfall collected in seven reservoirs on Mt. Tamalpais and in west Marin. The remaining 25 percent is imported under a contract with the Sonoma County Water Agency.

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