Posts Tagged ‘conservation’

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).

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by Dan Carney, Water Conservation Manager

Small grass area for children's play yard

Children’s play yard (photo and design by Michelle Derviss)

If you are looking for an ideal landscape area to have a picnic, play games with your kids, or rough and tumble with the family dog, a lawn may be a good choice.

When properly cared for, lawns have many environmental benefits: They clean and cool the air, filter storm water, produce oxygen, and require much less water than you might think—lawns are commonly overwatered by as much as five-times! As a rule of thumb, unless it’s the middle of summer and the lawn is in full sun all day long, a healthy lawn only needs to be watered one day per week if it’s not raining. If it needs more, chances are your lawn needs some help.

Common environmental problems with lawns occur when people overwater, use chemical pesticides and fertilizers, do not compost clippings, mow too often, and have a larger lawn than they actually use. This article focuses on the essential things you need to know in order to successfully grow healthy lawn grass in an environmentally responsible, Marin-friendly manner.

But first, ask yourself this question: Do you really need a traditional lawn at all? If your answer is no, then please consider planting a no-mow meadow of native grasses, low-water groundcover, or other drought-adapted plants. Even when perfectly maintained, lawns require more water than any other landscape plant and are best reserved for landscape areas where they will be actively used rather than just a pretty green surface to look at. If you have a lawn area you want to convert into a low-water using garden, check out this video to learn how to sheet mulch. Then, browse our conservation coupons to find discounts on mulch and other supplies from local retailers.

If you still choose to have a lawn on your property, here are the basics of Marin-friendly lawn care:

  • Incorporate a generous amount of organic compost into the soil (1-2 cubic yards per 100 square feet).
  • Select a drought-tolerant grass species.
  • Apply enough organic fertilizer to maintain plant health but not to stimulate fast growth.
  • Irrigate with a high-efficiency irrigation system, and adjust watering times frequently to match seasonal plant demand. Never water between the hours of 9 a.m. and 7 p.m., the time when 97% of evapotranspiration occurs.
  • Mow infrequently, use a manual or electric mower, leave the grass blades 2-4 inches tall, and compost the clippings.
  • Use graywater, rainwater, or recycled water whenever it is available.

By following these basic steps, you will be training your lawn grass to develop a deep and extensive root system—the key to growing a drought-tolerant lawn with the most environmental benefits and the fewest problems. MMWD offers a number of free services to help you make your landscape Marin-friendly. Visit our Conservation page today to schedule a free water use survey through our Conservation Assistance Program (CAP), sign up for a Marin Master Gardener Garden Walk, and take advantage of great rebate offers for smart irrigation controllers. And, be sure to sign up for MMWD’s Weekly Watering Schedule to get updated watering information for your climate zone delivered to your email box each week.


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The Last Leg

by Charlene Burgi

(This is the final installment of our garden expert Charlene’s trip to Italy. Read the previous installment here.)

Mountain village and church in Switzerland


The morning of our departure, we deliberated about taking this trip since another storm railed about us. We hoped for the best and traversed the flooded, narrow roads leading us away from Lezzeno on Lake Como. The rains finally subsided as we headed north through the breathtaking Alps. Switzerland is so clean and seems, in contrast to Italy, very modern. We arrived at Flüelen at the southern tip of Lake Lucerne where another boat trip would take us to our destination. To my delight, the color of the lake reminded me of the turquoise waters found in the Canadian Rockies. The water was clear and sparkled as the sun appeared to throw glitter at the wave caps. The mountains were covered by emerald green carpets of grass exposed to the year-round rains. The countryside was beautiful as the boat took us from one town to the next.

Water drainage through town of Gersau

Drainage through the town of Gersau

Upon our arrival at Gersau, we walked the charming streets. I was impressed with the practice of water management that focused on drainage and erosion control that blended in with the surroundings. A rather large watercourse cut through the town, originating somewhere in the mountains above. The watercourse had rock-lined steps within that created mini waterfalls enhancing the landscapes. Small gardens along the watercourse were tended by families who each added their own design and special touches to their given area. I could imagine Jack’s father, a renowned landscape engineer in his day, rollicking as a child through the town park where specimen trees flourished. Trees were Jack O. Burgi’s passion, and he was noted for moving full-grown trees at such places as Hearst Castle in San Simeon, the World’s Fair on Treasure Island, and the private residence of the Hearst family in McCloud. His passion for the beauty of nature is understandable after experiencing where his roots originated.

Herb garden along the watercourse in Gersau

Herb garden along the watercourse in Gersau

Family capped our final days in Italy. The day before we left, we met with my mother’s side of the family in Oleggio in the region of Piedmont. Both of my grandmothers were born in this lovely town. Walking the streets knowing they were here at one time and left never to return brought such respect for their courage and strength of character. Lynette and Randy kept wondering why they would want to leave such a wonderful place.

I am without words trying to describe the welcome my cousins gave us. My cousin Giuseppe met us in town and gave us a grand tour of the plazas, shops, and beautiful churches where I imagined my grandmothers attended. After the tour we went to the family home where Giuseppe’s wife, Maria Grazie, prepared a meal reminiscent of meals served by my grandmothers on holidays. Her homemade cannelloni stuffed with a type of cream cheese and prosciutto will forever be remembered by my lips and hips! Their daughter Elisabetta prepared the dessert, a tiramisu that had to be six inches tall. Everything was homemade and fresh, and the food just kept coming. We were also pleasantly surprised by a visit from another distant family member on my father’s side of the family who dropped in to say hello and provided translations for two families struggling to communicate! Serena attempted to see how my grandfather was related to her side. It was that afternoon that we found the link between the families!

Miniature pears on tree

Miniature pears

We all took a break after the seven-course meal and sat out in the garden where fruit trees were laden with figs, peaches, cherries, pears, and so much more. Maria Grazie and Giuseppe soon disappeared into the kitchen to make pizza dough for twelve pizzas for an evening dinner—a family specialty with two wood-burning pizza ovens located in the house as well as in the garden. Needless to say, we left that night with full hearts and stomachs.

This family time was my highlight. My children and I saw ancient history and witnessed wonders, but family is all about the heart. I will always remember the warmth, hospitality, and love of this Italian family as they shared so openly with us.

Man making pizza

Giuseppe’s finest pizza

Thank you for indulging me while I shared this trip with you. It was a dream come true. I found, as with Jack’s father and his roots, I too could bask in the memories of where my roots came from and the wealth of knowledge I inherited as a result.

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This is the first in a series of posts by MMWD’s interns, summer helpers, and watershed aides about their experiences at the district.

by Philip Shea, Information Technology Intern

As a lifelong Marin resident, growing up in close proximity to the MMWD watershed has always provided me with ample access to abundant habitat away from freeways, cars, and traffic. I learned to mountain bike at a very early age. I’ve hiked miles upon miles of access roads surrounding just about every community and township in the central Marin areas.

Throughout all of this time, I had never considered MMWD as a potential workplace until seeing a job posting for a summer intern. Being here now has brought me back to doing the work I love after earning my Associates degree at College of Marin last May. As an Information Technology intern, I’m assisting anyone at the district using computers (meaning everyone at the district).

I came here in June, a few months after voluntary water-use reductions were requested by our Governor Jerry Brown and MMWD’s Board of Directors. With the education provided by our knowledgeable Water Conservation Department here at the district, I’ve learned that with planning and a little modification of my daily routine, using 25% less water throughout my day really isn’t too difficult and makes me feel like I’m making an important difference.

I’m not a homeowner (yet). But, if I were, I would absolutely take advantage of the education and rebates the district is offering to residents who want to use less water. Even in the lobby of the district offices here, I’ve seen free supplies for testing for toilet leaks, changing showerheads, and learning better water practices, as well as 20% off coupons to Fairfax Lumber & Hardware for outdoor irrigation supplies.

With all of the resources offered, it seems to me we could go above and beyond the 25% voluntary reduction requested by the board, which benefits not only your household, but all of Marin.

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To the North

by Charlene Burgi

(This is part four of our garden expert Charlene’s trip to Italy. Read the previous installment here.)

Rain clouds over Lake Como in Italy

At Lake Como: Here comes the rain

The clock was ticking. We had one short week left to explore the part of Italy where my grandparents grew up many years ago. We said our goodbyes to Cinque Terre and headed to explore the Piedmont and Lombardy regions far to the north as Lake Como was our destination for our next exciting adventure.

And exciting it was. The weather at Lake Como provided us with a phenomenal thunder and lightning show that volleyed back and forth across the lake into the wee hours. Though shutters rattled and rain pounded, we found an awesome retreat under a covered portion of the house just above lake level where we took in the surrounding beauty of the Alps peeking through the storm clouds and highlighted by flashing bolts of lightning.

Water saving feature

Water-saving feature

Our day trips found us in nearby Bellagio where we once again traipsed over hill and dale to explore the many shops found in this quaint little town. While there, Lynette and I visited a public restroom and were perplexed when we needed to turn on the sink faucet. Looking around for any indicator of something to turn on, we found a black rubber dome on the floor and were pleasantly surprised that water came out of the faucet when we stepped on the dome. What a delightful idea to eliminate water wasters in public buildings! The practice of conserving water and energy extended to the home as well. Each place where we stayed provided front-load washing machines, but no dryers. Clothes hung out to dry in every hamlet, town, and city that we drove through. I must admit, we were a bit challenged during the rain storm to find locations to hang our laundry!

Ficus repens winding around historic buildings

Ficus repens

One day while at Lake Como we took a boat ride to Villa del Balbianello, a 16th-century estate originally established as a Franciscan monastery for Cardinal Durini’s need to get away from it all. And what a concept since the only access to the estate was by boat. The estate gardens were spectacular. The main living structure sat high on top of the hill with pathways winding up from the boat dock through lawn-studded landscapes. Fountains, garden art, and glorious flowers representing the colors of the Italian flag captured my attention. I studied the severity of the slopes where the lawns grew and noted that Liriope was the ground cover at the steepest areas. Hydrangeas graced planting areas and Ficus repens wound decoratively over the ancient buildings. I could understand why this place of beauty was chosen as a shooting location for feature films such as Star Wars Episode Il: Attack of the Clones and the 2006 James Bond film Casino Royale.

Simple landscaping

Simple landscaping

Each evening we found comfort in returning to the downstairs of our home away from home. While the landscaped area between us and the lake was sparse, it reminded me that our landscapes should reflect their surroundings. At this location, an elaborate landscape could detract from the beauty of the lake surrounded by magnificent mountain ranges. A day trip to Switzerland drove that point home—sometimes less is more. More on that side trip next week.

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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!

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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.

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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?



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.

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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

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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.

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