by Charlene Burgi
Rumor has it that we are in for an El Niño winter. I am not certain what that means since every report comes up with various predictions that span from getting drenched to mild inclement weather to continued drought.
Predictions are something to approach with a discerning ear. The fall/winter season would be better met with preparedness. Preparedness comes with paying attention to the indicators that surround us and acting prior to an event.
For example, a friend reported attending the Ready Marin program. When the earthquake struck in the wee hours this past Sunday, she was prepared with flashlights and necessary tools at hand (if needed) to turn off gas and water supplies. Yet others reported they woke up in a half stupor and attempted to collect their thoughts as to where they would even find a flashlight.
This week the news reported a water main break in San Francisco. One gentleman was capturing this precious commodity by the bucketful before it disappeared into the cavernous storm drain. He was prepared with whatever collection method he could find and conserved as much as he could.
Conserving water is more than turning the faucet off while brushing your teeth and exchanging high-water-use for high-efficiency fixtures in the house. It is more than switching to a smart controller or adjusting your controller to reflect the current ET loss for the week. These steps are extremely important for saving the water in our reservoirs, but by being prepared and making the best use of the water sources at hand we can conserve even more.
Each winter we anticipate rainfall, but are we prepared to utilize the falling rain? If we live on any kind of slope, we can create multiple bioswales running across the length of the slope to slow down the runoff. A bioswale requires some trenching, compacting the lower edge of the bioswale for erosion, and backfilling with porous material, such as bark. Planting two of my favorite deep-rooted shrubs—Pacific ninebark (Physocarpus capitatus) and red osier dogwood (Cornus stolonifera)—will help penetrate the clay soils above the swale and move the water deeper than the trenched bioswale.
Another idea is to collect the water from the downspout into trenches to carry water to a rain garden or meadow at least 10 feet away from the house foundation. Choose plant material that will thrive on the abundant rainwater that will collect there in the winter. Use rain garden plants such as Aster novae-anglaie or Lobelia cardinalis that attract butterflies and bees and provide nectar in the summer months.
Try designing a dry creek bed to capture the precious liquid from our rains. Wind the bed through the garden to deliver water to your trees or shrubs along the way. Tuck native grasses and wildflowers along the edges or plant some color into the dry creek bed. This task requires preparing now for winter.
These suggestions will take more than a shovel and wheel barrow. It will take planning and a list of equipment as follows:
Dry creek bed color (photo courtesy of Marie Shepard)
- Soil, sand, clay, organic mulch
- Building materials and construction (if built)
- Organic compost
- Tools (tractor, rakes, shovels, gloves, etc.)
- Vegetation (seeds, plants, trees)
- Gravel, rocks (large and small)
Are you prepared for the task at hand or will you watch the precious wet stuff disappear into the local storm drain this winter?
It is Labor Day weekend. Why not take a ride to the Mt. Tamalpais Watershed and glean ideas for imitating nature in your own garden?
Posted in Charlene Burgi | Tagged conservation, gardening, rainfall, rainwater harvesting, tips, watershed | Leave a Comment »
MMWD reservoir levels are now 92% of average, which may be a surprise to many during this dry year. Our reservoir levels have actually held steady at this same ratio for several months now, thanks in part to customer conservation efforts and also to water system operational changes. The more water we can keep in the reservoirs now, the better off we are later.
Here are the current water statistics:
Reservoir Levels: As of August 25, reservoir storage is 53,843 acre-feet,* or 68% of capacity. The average for this date is 58,648 acre-feet, or 74% of capacity. Total capacity is 79,566 acre-feet.
Rainfall: Rainfall this year to date (July 1-August 25) is 0.04 inches. Average for the same period is 0.12 inches.
Water Use: Water use for the week of August18-25 averaged 27.32 million gallons per day, compared to 31.79 million gallons per day for the same week last year.
Supply Source: Last week we averaged 20.03 million gallons per day from our reservoirs and 7.29 million gallons per day from the Russian River.
Creek Releases: During the month of July 2014 MMWD released 171 million gallons, or a total of 524 acre-feet, into Lagunitas and Walker creeks in west Marin for habitat enhancement.
Water use and reservoir figures are updated weekly and can be found on our Water Watch page.
*One acre-foot is 325,851 gallons
Posted in Think Blue Marin | Tagged rainfall, reservoirs, water supply | Leave a Comment »
by Robin McKillop, Water Conservation Specialist Supervisor
With the “lazy” days of summer almost over and schools throughout Marin already starting the 2014-15 school year, there’s no better time than now to start thinking about MMWD’s Water Wonders education programs. Our fun, informative programs offer something for everyone, including indoor and outdoor educational opportunities, hands-on water conservation and restoration activities, whole-school assemblies in English and Spanish, service learning projects, and school bus reimbursements. Last year, MMWD’s Water Wonders programs provided education to thousands of K through 12th students throughout Marin. This year, we expect similar demand, as water seems to be on everybody’s mind with California’s ongoing drought. By participating in the Water Wonders program, students will learn about drought, and gain an understanding that droughts are an unpredictable and naturally recurring part of California’s variable climate. Students will also learn about simple, positive actions they can take to conserve water at home and at school.
Through MMWD’s “Do-It-Yourself Water Conservation” program, students are empowered to take water conserving actions at home—something that’s always important, but even more so now, during these times of drought. Students learn to evaluate their household’s water use and identify ways to conserve water by checking their toilets for leaks, installing water-efficient showerheads and faucet aerators, and reviewing their irrigation systems, among other things. MMWD provides free showerheads and faucet aerators to households that need them.
The Water Wonders brochure provides detailed information about all of our programs as well as contact information for making reservations. Programs are offered on a first-come, first-served basis and fill up quickly. All programs are offered free of charge and are designed to support California education standards while fostering water conservation and environmental stewardship.
We hope you’ll join us this school year! The first step is to make a reservation for one or more of our water education programs.
Posted in Robin McKillop | Tagged conservation, education, restoration | Leave a Comment »
by Charlene Burgi
Over the years, many questions have popped up regarding the best way to irrigate. Some customers asked if it was best to irrigate a little every day, or every two days, etc. Others asked if it was best to irrigate in the morning, afternoon, or evening. Some wanted to know what irrigation method is best for hillside planting.
Overspray: an irrigation don’t
And, over the years, many of you have heard me say to irrigate effectively as well as efficiently. To irrigate efficiently is to apply water to the root zone of the plant and replace just the amount of water lost due to evapotranspiration (ET). ET is the loss of water through transpiration from plants (we perspire, plants transpire) and through evaporation from soil. MMWD uses data from its weather stations to calculate the rate of ET and generate the Weekly Watering Schedule. Replacing just the amount of water lost keeps the plant and surrounding areas in balance, but this alone is not necessarily effective.
For example, suppose the ET loss for the week is one inch. A person could water a tiny bit daily, replacing just 1/7th inch of water each day to total one inch for the week. However, that tiny bit of water would barely wet the surface of the ground and evaporate quickly. Much better would be to apply a half inch twice a week or one inch of water weekly to get down to the root system of the plant. Water at that depth will take longer to evaporate—especially if there is a thick layer of mulch on top of the soil. That would be effective as well as efficient.
Another means of being more effective is to avoid irrigating when it’s windy or during the heat of the day. Typically, there is little wind during the evenings or early morning. If you set your controller to turn on after sunset or before sunrise, you’ll save water and comply with MMWD’s new daytime irrigation prohibition. Since your irrigation system will be in action while you sleep, do a quick monthly system check—running each station for a minute—to look for blown emitters or misaligned nozzles. During the month between system checks, simply look around in the morning. Do you see a puddle? Are the sidewalks wet? Are you finding dry spots or wilting plants? These are signs that adjustments or repairs may be needed.
Watering hillside plantings is a challenge in anyone’s book. There are steps that can be taken to make this irrigation challenge both effective and efficient. First, use very low-flow methods of irrigating such as drip emitters or MP rotators for overhead irrigation. Next, use multiple start and stop times on your controller. Some controllers call this the cycle/ soak program. Water for a brief time before you see any sign of runoff. At that time, program the controller to turn off. Let that water soak into the hillside for 20-30 minutes before setting the controller to start again. Continue the cycle/ soak until the water penetrates to the depth of the root system—but not until you find water run down the street!
Be water smart. A few moments to adjust your controller will yield water savings and happy plants. And please take a few minutes to become familiar with the current water conservation regulations.
Posted in Charlene Burgi | Tagged conservation, gardening, irrigation, tips | 2 Comments »
In response to the continuing drought, the State Water Resources Control Board announced new emergency regulations in July designed to reduce outdoor water use statewide. To fully comply with the state, on August 19 the MMWD Board of Directors adopted an ordinance amending the water waste section of the district’s code.
Most of the new state regulations mirror water waste restrictions MMWD has had in place for some time. However, two changes may affect you: Irrigating between 9 a.m. – 7 p.m. is prohibited, as is using a hose without a shutoff nozzle. We’ve long recommended that our customers follow these water-saving practices; now, these recommendations are requirements.
We appreciate your cooperation!
Prohibited Water Uses
Under state and district water conservation regulations, the following are prohibited:
- NEW: Irrigating between 9 a.m. – 7 p.m, except for system testing and repair
- NEW: Using a hose without a shutoff nozzle
- Allowing irrigation water to runoff or overspray the irrigated area
- Hosing down sidewalks, driveways, and other hard-surfaced areas
- Non-recirculating decorative fountains
FREE hose shutoff nozzles are available at MMWD’s Corte Madera office (one per household, please).
Posted in Think Blue Marin | Tagged code, conservation, gardening, irrigation, news | 5 Comments »
by Andrea Williams, Vegetation Ecologist
This is installment seven of a 12-part series on grasses. Read the previous installment here.
Serpentine reedgrass (Calamagrostis ophitidis) is rare. We have tons of it.
Such seemingly incongruous statements happen quite a bit on Mt. Tam, through the magic of the “Matrix of Rarity.” It depends on the scale at which you look. The California Native Plant Society (CNPS), which reviews the distribution of and threats to California’s flora, keeps an inventory of plants and the degree of rarity they display. So statewide (and worldwide), there may be fewer than 100,000 individuals, but if all those individuals are in a three-square-mile area they may seem abundant in that spot.
||Abundant where found
||Few plants per population
||Common species, e.g. purple needlegrass (Stipa pulchra)
||Often rare, e.g. semaphore grass (Pleuropogon)—next month’s topic!
||Often rare, e.g. serpentine reedgrass
||Nearly always rare
Almost half of our rare plants are restricted to serpentine soils; like wetlands and beaches, these habitat types are finite. Often, rare plants in these spots will be quite common and you may wonder why they’re considered rare at all. Mt. Tam manzanita is actually so common it’s the dominant plant over most of our serpentine soils. Serpentine reedgrass is pickier still, preferring to grow at the edge and in the interstices of serpentine chaparral.
Serpentine reedgrass (Calamagrostis ophitidis)
Unlike Mt. Tam manzanita, though, serpentine reedgrass can be found outside Marin in Sonoma, Mendocino, Napa, and Lake counties, although we do have the bulk of it. This handsome perennial grass raises fluffy, open spikes one to three feet above clumps of deep green upright leaves. Some of the finest serpentine reedgrass grassland—a rare vegetation type—can be found along Pine Mountain Road opposite Azalea Hill.
Another factor feeding into a plant’s status is the threat to its populations. Serpentine reedgrass populations on Mt. Tamlapais are pretty stable: No one is bulldozing populations to build things, they don’t need fire to germinate, their habitat isn’t being taken over, no diseases are wiping them out. But in other counties that may not be the case. Like with the drought, we need to consider ourselves lucky that we are where we are and have what we have (90% of average water storage and 40 rare plant species), and continue to conserve.
Posted in Andrea Williams | Tagged ecology, native plants, watershed | Leave a Comment »
by Charlene Burgi
Bald Mountain Fire
The dense smoke finally lifted from the valley floor where we live here in Lassen. The hundreds of firefighters, trucks, and fire equipment have done their job well. The lightning fires are finally extinguished in this neck of California. While friends were evacuated from their homes—some moving their horses at two o’clock in the morning—firefighters worked diligently around the clock and saved homes from the wildland fires.
A recent ride to the tiny town of Day, where one of the many fires started, spoke to me of fire danger. While homes showed good fire clearance, the open unattended properties told a different story. “Ladder” fuel was thick: Dry grass and shrubs choked the pine forest floor along the one-and-only 10-mile road into town. Fortunately for those living there, the lightning struck on the hilltops and the wind carried the fire north, away from the town and homes nestled below.
Seeing the area brought me back several years to before my employment with MMWD. A portion of my work at that time was to educate homeowners about the danger of wildland fires in Marin, Sonoma, and Napa Counties and what people could do to mitigate that threat. The road into Day made me think of the one-way roads in Fairfax, Corte Madera, and Mill Valley where fire engines require special clearances just to get around the tight switchback roads leading to the top of many tree-studded hills. Creating clearances often required removing privacy trees and shrubs, as well as plants known to contain oils that feed fire. Some homeowners embraced that education while others resisted, thinking a fire could never happen where they live.
Mission accomplished: Cash at work clearing weeds
Fire safety becomes critical in your thinking process when you live in “brush country” as the insurance companies label this area, otherwise known as SRA (State Responsibility Area). Our home and surrounding land is inspected annually by CalFire to make certain the ground is clear and trees are limbed up to at least 10 feet. It is an inspection that I welcome and appreciate. I can honestly thank the donkeys and horses for their work clearing the ground and Jack’s manpower and chainsaws for limbing up the trees. We designed the landscaped areas with trees and shrubs chosen for their low water use and high tolerance to fire. Plant choices are good, but maintenance—including removing dry vegetation—is imperative. Additional insurance is keeping the landscaping well-irrigated, which is a challenge during the drought we are experiencing.
What can you do to protect your home from fire? First, remove all dead and dying debris from your property. Remove tree limbs that are less than 10 feet from the ground or that overhang your home. Keep wood piles away from your home. Add a stone retaining wall if your home was built within a natural “chimney” such as a canyon or ravine. Create a large “green” zone around your home to make it difficult for ground fire to encroach. This area can include patios, stone walls, low-growing groundcovers as suggested by CalFire, swimming pools, and the like. For the next zone further away from the house, choose fire-resistant species and leave space between plants to prevent the spread of fire.
Lastly, have a list handy of all your important paperwork, pictures, and valuables. Friends here scanned pictures and paperwork and saved them to a cloud file before they were asked to evacuate.
Are you fire safe? This is a good weekend to investigate how you can protect your property better.
Posted in Charlene Burgi | Tagged emergency preparedness, gardening, tips, weeds | Leave a Comment »