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Save Your Green Save Our BlueMMWD is partnering with local retailers to help you give your garden a water-efficient makeover for less. For a limited time, participating businesses are generously offering coupons for a variety of water-conserving products for your landscape.

You’ll find discounts on smart irrigation controllers (which also may be eligible for a rebate from MMWD), mulch, drought-tolerant plants, drip irrigation supplies, and more. Each retailer has a different discount, so visit our website to browse the offers and print the coupons that best meet your needs. Or, drop by our lobby at 220 Nellen Avenue in Corte Madera to pick up some coupons and other water-saving information and gadgets.

Thank you to Fairfax Lumber & Hardware, Horizon, Marin Landscape Materials, Sonoma Compost, and The Urban Farmer Store for helping MMWD customers save water and money!

atrium watered with graywaterThe 50 or so plants in Maya M.’s beautiful atrium have never tasted pure drinking water. Instead, she keeps them happy and hydrated with buckets of lightly used water.

Though people often associate graywater with laundry-to-landscape or more elaborate, professionally installed systems, getting started with graywater can be as simple as buying a few good buckets. Graywater collected in a shower or bathroom sink bucket works well for toilet flushing and is fine for watering landscape plants and fruit trees. (Just be sure to choose a biodegradable soap, make sure graywater infiltrates into the soil and doesn’t pool or run off, and avoid letting graywater come into contact with any plant parts you plan to eat.)

In addition to being a proud member of the “bucket brigade,” Maya also is a big advocate of “stop the disposal” containers; since running the disposal uses a lot of water and energy, diverting fruit and vegetable trimmings to a handy juice container, lidded bowl, or basket and then to the compost pile is a simple way to save.

Maya learned the value of water growing up in the Netherlands during the war. When the bomb sirens sounded, the water and gas companies would at times turn off the utilities. Her job was to fill the bathtub so her family would have water during and after the air raids.

She still views water as most precious. She hand waters her garden to ensure plants get just what they need and is a proponent of saying goodbye to unwanted lawns. “To be green we have to love beige and let our lawns go dormant,” she says.

As her experience shows, being green also means loving gray.

Are you an MMWD customer with a conservation success story to share? Tell us in the comments below, email us, or nominate yourself or someone else for a Water-Saving Hero Award.

by Charlene Burgi

(This is part three of our garden expert Charlene’s trip to Italy. Read the first and second installments.)

A day exploring Florence and visiting the leaning tower of Pisa completed our stay in Tuscany. Liguria was our next destination, where we found the five picturesque fishing villages along the Italian Mediterranean otherwise known as Cinque Terre. We were pleasantly surprised as we headed out of the Tuscan region as we drove under an unmarked, ancient aqueduct still carrying water to regions that I imagined to be nearby.

To the north loomed mountain ranges that I thought to be covered in snow. We soon realized the glistening white of the mountains near Carrara were quarries of marble that Michelangelo once traversed searching for the perfect piece to create artwork such as his sculpture of David.

As we continued north, the roads wound like a lazy snake through the wildflower-covered hills. Below lay the clear waters of the Mediterranean. We soon found the time allotted to explore this region was too short. We only had two nights and a full day to see all that we could. Transportation to these little fishing villages required taking a train, a boat, or hiking, so we opted to take in only two of the five villages. We were thankful for the ability to reach the jeweled towns, for it was only in 1926 that roads were cut into the hillside to reach them. Otherwise, they could only be reached by boat!

Randy at the public grotto

Randy at the public grotto

We arrived during the weekend and the tiny communities were mobbed with tourists. We walked along the busy, narrow streets where I noticed people milling about a grotto. Upon closer inspection, we saw the grotto featured an open spigot where the drinking water flowed freely. People clamored to the precious liquid to refill their water bottles, wash their hands, or cool their brow.

The sight of water freely flowing unnerved the water conservationist in me. It was an assault to my senses! The paradox is, while the water escaped into the basin below, every restaurant in Italy charged for a bottle of drinking water—asking with or without “gas” (known to us as sparkling water). I wondered why the restaurants in Marin don’t exercise this practice with water being such a precious commodity—after all, I now understand that it is so European! Would that practice ever catch on?

Bougainvillea

Bougainvillea

After recovering from the grotto, we traversed the breadth and width of the beautiful beaches and tiny streets that were covered with magnificent flora. Bougainvillea, lantana, ivy geraniums, and so much more filled the grounds of exquisite estates that faced the Mediterranean.

As we walked along one path, Lynette asked me to identify a plant. I had never seen it before but fell in love with the delicate flower. Guido and Paulo, friends of Lynette who live in Italy and met us at Cinque Terre, quickly pulled out their smart phones to identify the plant as Capparis spinosa, otherwise known as capers—the very accoutrement that we use in cooking! I couldn’t wait to find out more about this plant. It was, in fact, one of the first things I investigated upon my return. To my surprise, Capparis will grow in Marin! Why has this beauty eluded me, and would the nurseries be able to find this deciduous perennial bush also known as Flinder’s rose? True to its Mediterranean origin, it needs very little water, requires fast draining soil, but tolerates poor soil. This all made perfect sense as the plant we saw was growing in a rock wall. It can act as a groundcover or trail over walls. What a treasure!

Caper (Capparis spinosa)

Caper (Capparis spinosa)

May I encourage you to also explore using this plant in your landscape? The buds can be pickled if you use capers in your recipes. Just taking in the beauty of the delicate flowers from late spring through summer would bring enough joy as you watch the flowers open in the morning and close as evening approaches.

I fell asleep that night wondering if capers could survive in our little greenhouse in Lassen and missing the Mediterranean climate of Marin where I knew this plant could thrive and enhance any garden.

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.

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