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A Deal

by Charlene Burgi

Let’s face it—I love all kinds of deals. When repurposing became the rage, I was already there. Bay-Friendly gardening principles encourage us to recycle, and I am at the forefront cheering on other followers. Pinterest.org has my full attention for other ideas on repurposing. Turning an old pallet into a planter for growing lettuce is exciting news. Bent, galvanized nails are saved to place around the base of hydrangeas to get them to turn blue. And a broken clay pot makes for great drainage material for plants that don’t like their roots sitting in water.

Future henhouse?

Future henhouse?

At times, Jack has to put his foot down to this quirk of mine. For example, I wanted to convert an old antiquated camping trailer into a henhouse. Visually, the vintage RV would be adorable—in my eyes. The trailer would be insulated and with plenty of room for chickens to move about. Plus it would be impossible for predators to enter. Additionally, no lumber would be needed to construct a new henhouse.

My guess is thriftiness is in my DNA. My mother was great at making ends meet. She could stretch a dollar to the maximum and wouldn’t hesitate to walk a mile to get the best price for an onion. Perhaps growing up during the Great Depression gave Mom a sense of saving and making the most of a situation. I will never forget her thinking she could save money by replacing the worn ticking on our feather pillows. I came home from school to a house filled with feathers floating into every nook and cranny. Years later we would still come across an escaped down feather from that money-saving adventure. Despite the mess made, years later it gave us all a chuckle when we considered the hours she spent repurposing those feathers.

Mom also saved water before it came into vogue. In need of a new washing machine, she was disappointed to learn that sud-saver washing machines were no longer available. Her answer to that problem was to insert a plug into the laundry room sink and bucket water back into the washing machine—especially during the 1970s drought. She proudly shared her water-saving ideas with the Marin Independent Journal during that time, making the front page and collecting the grand prize for the best submitted ideas.

She would also take advantage of rebates that came along over the years from the Marin Municipal Water District. She replaced her high-water-using toilets with new HETs, placed bark around her garden, and exchanged her sprinkler nozzles for MPR spray nozzles, knowing those rebates would save water as well as reduce the dollar figure on her water bill.

MMWD Rebates: Get Paid to SaveMom has since passed on, but her values are well embedded in this brain. When I heard of MMWD’s newest rebate program, which starts this Saturday, October 25, I wondered how she might take advantage of the savings. She didn’t have a pool for the pool cover, but knowing her, a laundry-to-landscape system would be a great substitute for the loss of her sud-saver washing machine. Rain barrels would also be a consideration since she would always place containers under her downspout to collect rainwater. Organic mulch was refreshed in her garden every year. Yes, Mom would take advantage of these deals. How about you?

Ten months after the governor, and then MMWD, asked for reductions in water use, MMWD customers continue to respond well. Average consumption for mid-October 2014 was approximately 25% lower than it was last year. The total water savings achieved since the beginning of the year have helped to keep our reservoirs at close to normal levels.

Here are the current water statistics:

Reservoir Levels: As of October 19, reservoir storage is 49,579 acre-feet,* or 62% of capacity. The average for this date is 52,290 acre-feet, or 66% of capacity. Total capacity is 79,566 acre-feet.

Rainfall: Rainfall this year to date (July 1-October 19) is 1.12 inches. Average for the same period is 2.33 inches.

Water Use: Water use for the week of October 13-19 averaged 21.98 million gallons per day, compared to 27.86 million gallons per day for the same week last year.

Creek Releases: During the month of September 2014 MMWD released 160 million gallons, or 490 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

by Andrea Williams, Vegetation Ecologist

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

Life gets busy sometimes, and blog posts can seem a frivolous indulgence. But then things don’t match up right, and one feels further behind* than she should for not having gotten the semaphore grass (Pleuropogon) post out in time for International Talk Like a Pirate Day on September 19. “Why should that matter?” you might think (that, or, “You totally lost me”). Well, the genus name for this grass translates from the Greek as “Sidebeard” and I think that would make an excellent pirate name.

North Coast semaphore grass

North Coast semaphore grass (Pleuropogon hooverianus)
©2001 Bart and Susan Eisenberg (CC BY 3.0)

Like pirates, semaphore grasses are usually found near water; also, there are a lot fewer than there used to be. Marin County has two rare species, nodding (P. refractus) and North Coast (P. hooverianus), and the more common California (P. californicus) semaphore grass. Nodding semaphore grass has only been found in Marin on the Point Reyes peninsula, although suitable redwood riparian habitat exists for it elsewhere in the county, and it is relatively common in Humboldt and Del Norte counties. North Coast semaphore grass, state-listed as threatened, was once known from Ross, Lagunitas Meadows, and several spots along San Geronimo Creek; now, there is only one shrinking patch near the San Geronimo Treatment Plant. Sadly, most of Lagunitas Meadows was flooded when Bon Tempe Reservoir was built, and searches of that area have yielded no plants, so that population appears to have gone to its watery grave. California semaphore grass was also known from Ross, but can still be found in grassy wet meadows to the north and east in places such as Mt. Burdell and Hicks Valley.

Semaphore grasses’ distinctive arrangement of their spikelets led to their common name: The flowering stalk stands like a mast with the small flagging spikelets waving in the breeze. The three species we have can be told apart by how their flags are held—the semaphore’s message is up=californicus, out=hooverianus, down= refractus. Other differences help in telling these apart as well (since the flags can sometimes give mixed messages), such as habitat, and the rare species’ rhizomatous habit. But if you encounter a Sidebeard of any kind, thank yer lucky stars!

*At least I can translate the month and feel like I am still on track, since October (as I write this) is the “eighth” month.

MMWD Rebates: Get Paid to SaveThe Marin Municipal Water District (MMWD) is launching five new rebates to promote water conservation starting this Saturday, October 25, 2014.

We’ll be offering rebates up to $50 each for pool covers, hot water recirculating systems, organic mulch, laundry-to-landscape graywater system components, and rain barrels. Customers will be able to pick and choose the product categories that make sense for their homes, and purchase one or more for a total rebate of up to $250 for all five.

The rebates will be offered for a limited time on a first-come, first-served basis while funding lasts. Purchases must be made on or after October 25 to qualify. Single-family and duplex residential customers are eligible.

The products include:

  • Pool covers: A pool cover is a highly effective water and energy conservation device. Regularly using a pool cover reduces water loss due to evaporation by up to 95%. A pool cover also can shrink energy bills by preventing heat loss.
  • Hot water recirculating systems: No more watching water go down the drain while waiting for the shower to warm up! Hot water recirculating systems use a pump and bypass valve to recirculate water back to the hot water heater until it reaches the desired temperature.
  • Organic mulch: Organic, plant-based mulches such as bark, straw, or compost help retain soil moisture, suppress the growth of water-hogging weeds, and add nutrients to the soil as they decompose.
  • Laundry-to-landscape system components: Reusing water from a clothes washer for landscape irrigation is one of the simplest, least expensive ways to “go gray.” Basic laundry-to-landscape graywater systems don’t require permits or alteration to existing plumbing.
  • Rain barrels: Just 1 inch of rain on a 1,000-square-foot roof produces about 600 gallons of runoff. Rain barrels can be a great way to harvest some of this rain water to supplement irrigation needs.

For complete details on qualifying products and how to participate, visit marinwater.org/rebates after October 25, or watch for more information in your November/December water bill.

In addition to the new rebates, we will continue to offer rebates on high-efficiency toilets, high-efficiency clothes washers, and smart irrigation controllers. Visit marinwater.org/rebates to learn more.

Dependency

by Charlene Burgi

High winds tore at the vegetation in Lassen and Modoc counties this past Tuesday. Clouds of dirt and dust were so thick you couldn’t see beyond them. Trees swayed over and were pushed to their limits. Then it happened. Somewhere along the miles of power lines coming through town and countryside, a tree gave way to the gusting winds and we lost our electricity. But I soon discovered it was more of a loss than that.

I was on the computer when the power went down. Our phones went dead as our phone system requires electricity. My cell phone was also dead from lack of use. My car was securely parked in the garage where the walls are filled with 12 inches of concrete to protect us from winter cold. No cell service could penetrate within even if I plugged the phone into the car jack; however, charging the cell phone in the car was an option.

heavy duty flashlight

Super light source

While the phone charged, the thought of losing all means of communication didn’t concern me. I moved on to pending projects not requiring electricity or communication. While working, I made mental notes of other options for freeing myself of electrical dependency in an emergency. One was to get the generator moved back into the garage and review the process of how it works. Jack was out of town, and I knew I couldn’t manage carting the generator from his shop to the house by myself, so that would have to wait.

Several hours later, and a few projects completed, our power was restored. However, I failed to check the access to the internet until the following night. No connection. With it being late, morning sounded like a better time for problem-solving. Equipped with positive thoughts and little knowledge, I tackled the job by disconnecting and reconnecting various cords but to no avail. The computer wouldn’t connect to the internet. Our internet representative made attempts over the phone to walk me through various exercises but with the same outcome I experienced. We came to the conclusion that my modem died in the storm. It would be late the next day before they could send someone out.

My mind reeled as I considered the options I had for getting the blog to you this week. Our closest neighbor doesn’t own a computer. However our new neighbors, living several miles away, are off grid and totally dependent on solar power, and they have internet service. Thanks to them, the blog would go through!

Dependency. This power outage made me realize how dependent we are on electricity. Jack and I are dependent on electricity to move water from the well to the house and horse troughs. We need electricity to water our garden, wash dishes and clothes, draw water for bathing, brush our teeth, and the list goes on.

portable generator

MMWD’s portable generators help keep water flowing in a power outage.

Losing electricity made me think of the power Marin Municipal Water District uses to move water to your homes also. Most people don’t realize that MMWD is one of Marin’s largest power consumers! I recalled the time many years ago that MMWD lost power and we used generators to keep emergency lighting on in our building. The district had a plan in place to continue providing reliable service to customers, so your water was never interrupted.

This week’s event gave me pause for thought and prompted me to come up with some questions for you:

  • Do you have an emergency preparedness plan? (If not, readymarin.org is a great resource.)
  • If you lost power, what would you sacrifice? What domino effect would it have on your life?
  • How dependent are you on your utilities? Could you live comfortably until all was restored?
  • Have you stored an emergency supply of water?
  • Can you use a barbecue to cook?
  • Are back-up batteries charged or candles at the ready?
  • Do you have a generator? And if so, do you have it filled with fuel and know how to use it?
  • Or, like our friends, would you be unaffected by the loss of power thanks to progressive thinking in using solar energy and storing water in a tank for such emergencies?

I hope I have convinced you to take a moment now, before an emergency arises, to ask yourself what are you dependent on and what is your “plan B” if that option fails. With this in mind, what will you do differently? Please let us know what plans you have in place to assist with overcoming these dependencies! I, for one, may consider courier pigeons for communication!

Heat Wave

by Charlene Burgi

The air temperatures in Marin have been pushing close to and into the 90s for more than a week now. The urge to increase our irrigation times seems natural to compensate for the heat, yet the Weekly Watering Schedule is saying to water less now than was suggested at the beginning of May. At that time, the evapotranspiration (ET) was 1.57 inches with a 106% Watering Index, compared to 0.97 inch with a 66% Watering Index this week.

You might ask why plants need more water in cooler spring than when the temperatures soar in early fall. The truth is air temperature only plays a small role in determining how much water our plants need.

CIMIS weather station

CIMIS weather station

But first, some background on how we determine the Weekly Watering Schedule: The California Irrigation Management Information System (CIMIS) is a network of weather stations throughout California. Our CIMIS weather station is located near Point San Pedro Road in San Rafael and collects data points throughout the day that determine plant irrigation needs. Besides recording air temperature, our CIMIS station has instruments that measure soil temperature, hours of solar radiation, wind speed and direction, humidity level, and rainfall. We use all the collected data to calculate how much water is evaporating from the soil and transpiring from plants. Those results are transposed into inches. This tells us how many inches of lost water we need to replace with irrigation to maintain the optimal health for our gardens.

The question still remains why we irrigated more in late spring/early summer than we are now in the heat of fall. By examining the data collected by CIMIS, you will find that solar radiation is the key difference. Daylight hours play a critical role in a plant’s growing conditions and cycle of growth. In short: Even with the warm autumn weather we’ve been having, shorter days mean your plants don’t need as much water this time of year. (Without further investigation, I suspect daylight hours play a role in our animals’ cycle of winter survival as well; I notice the horses’ and donkeys’ sleek coats are beginning to come in heavier right now, despite the continuing warm weather.)

If you are following the suggested irrigation runtimes but find that some of your plants are wilting during the fall heat spells, check the soil moisture level. Oft times, the soil has adequate water available to the plant, but the plant cannot draw the water up to the leaf fast enough (usually found in very large leaf plants). In this situation the plant will droop but recover by the following morning.

If you are uncertain how much water your plant is receiving, you can experiment by placing an empty low can (such as a tuna can) near your plant before you irrigate. After the station is complete, measure the amount of water in the can and multiply that times the number of days you irrigate in that area each week. Check that number with the given ET loss per week to see if you are replacing what the plant loses. For example, if the can collected 0.25 inch and you irrigated three times a week, you are replacing 0.75 inch. Last week the ET was 0.91 inch, so if you only applied 0.75 inch last week you are not applying enough water to sustain the health of the plant.

To really do this test correctly, it would be best to distribute several cans throughout the area being irrigated and total the number of inches in the cans and divide that number of inches by the number of cans you have placed out. That test is known as distribution uniformity and is getting into a whole different topic for next week’s blog!

Have a great weekend, and stay hydrated if you are working outdoors.

drought watch stickerWe have new stickers, fliers, and posters in English and Spanish to help you remember to conserve water and spread the word. The materials are free for MMWD customers.

The sticker is 3 x 3 inches and can be placed on a mirror, wall, or window; it is “low tac” so it’s easy to remove.

The flier and poster include the prohibited outdoor water uses that went into effect August 19. The flier is 3.5 x 8.5 inches. The poster is 11 x 17 inches.

Click here to order online. Thanks for conserving!

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