Posts Tagged ‘conservation’

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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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.”

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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.


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by Christina Mountanos



As I looked around my garden this past weekend, I felt myself sigh in both satisfaction and a little relief. No doubt summertime is here and the plants in my north-facing garden are enjoying the warmer weather and longer days as much as I am! The star jasmine that turn pitifully bare every winter have resurrected themselves once again, and my bougainvillea is back and bigger than ever, spilling its maroon blossoms wildly over my neighbor’s fence.

As a beginning gardener, this has been my most productive spring yet. In contrast to previous years, almost all of the projects I’ve been working on have yielded good results. I’ve been successfully coaxing two morning glories up a trellis, patiently shaping a small collection of rosemary topiaries, and the petunias I received for my birthday in April are still alive and thriving in the intensifying sun. Surprisingly even the poppy seeds I scattered at the end of May have sprouted and grown!

Maybe it’s safe to say that I’ve finally gotten a handle on how things grow, and it’s likely that working in water conservation has helped. But, as far as I’ve come, I do often find myself still grappling with some of the most basic of gardening concepts. One that I struggled with recently? Roots! What’s so complicated about roots, you ask? Well, let me start by saying that if you’re well-versed in water-wise gardening, you’re surely familiar with the principle of watering deeply, but infrequently to encourage more drought-tolerant plants. If you haven’t heard this before, watering in this manner can create plants with roots that grow more deeply. Not only can plants with deeper, more extensive root systems find water and nutrients in more places, but having roots further away from the surface of the soil means they also stay moist longer and plants don’t dry out as quickly.

Rooting petunia

Petunia cutting sprouting roots on a window sill

It was this concept that got me thinking. How deep is “deeply,” exactly? Of course, watering my potted plants has always been easy; I simply water until it comes out the bottom (fool-proof!). But, as I graduated from the simplicities of planter gardening, I began wondering about the tall shrubs that run around the perimeter of my yard. How deep are their roots? And what about trees? Is it both possible and necessary to water their entire roots zones?

Well, what I have found is that plants and trees have portions of their root systems that can, in fact, grow very deep in the soil. You may remember Charlene mentioning in a previous post that some California annuals have roots that reach 20 feet! These deeper roots can serve as structural supports and to find water and nutrients in extreme conditions. Oak trees growing naturally on our watershed, and throughout Marin, typically have taproots that grow deeply for this reason.

However, I was surprised to find out that the vast majority of a plant’s root system is concentrated much closer to the surface than I originally thought. Roughly 80% of a tree’s roots, for example, are concentrated in the top 12 to 36 inches of soil. Quite amazing when you think of how tall trees can get! Roots are confined to this depth, for the most part, because this is where the most oxygen, minerals, and nutrients are readily available. These elements become less and less prevalent as depth increases, and thus roots do, too. Not surprisingly then, watering beyond a depth of 36 inches essentially wastes water and effort.

A great take-away tip that I found from the California Master Gardener Handbook, and one that I now use for hand watering, is the 1-2-3 rule. Water to a depth of one foot for small plants (like annuals and groundcovers), two feet for medium sized plants, and three feet for large shrubs and trees. How long it will take to reach this depth will vary depending on your soil type and the flow of your hose, so some initial experimentation is necessary. A day or so after watering, use a soil probe or a shovel to dig down and to see how far the water has traveled, then adjust accordingly. Consider using this same procedure to check that your irrigation runtimes are sufficient as well.

With this small token of wisdom comes another sigh of relief. So far, gardening has surely been a process for me. It’s been a piecemeal operation with successes, frustrations, a lot of listening to those wiser than me, and most importantly, enjoyment.

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The rainfall year ends on June 30 and in all likelihood we will not receive much, if any, additional rain in the remaining few days. Total rainfall at Lake Lagunitas for the rainfall year ending June 30 will top out at around 33.40 inches, which is about 64% of the annual average. This marks the third consecutive year of below average rainfall, and the reservoir storage levels reflect those low numbers.

The current reservoir storage is the lowest it has been for this date since the early 1990s. If not for the ongoing conservation efforts of our customers, and the especially heavy rain in February, we would be in a far worse position than we are today.

The MMWD Board of Directors’ call for 25% voluntary rationing is still in place and current consumption figures show reduced water use. We appreciate everyone’s conservation efforts and we encourage customers to take advantage of the district’s many conservation programs and rebates. Get more information here.

Here are the current water statistics:

Reservoir Levels: As of June 22, reservoir storage is 60,533 acre-feet,* or 76% of capacity. The average for this date is 67,290 acre-feet, or 85% of capacity. Total capacity is 79,566 acre-feet.

Rainfall: Rainfall this fiscal year to date (July 1-June 22) is 33.40 inches. Average for the same period is 52.56 inches.

Water Use: Water use for the week of June 16-22 averaged 28.78 million gallons per day, compared to 32.27 million gallons per day for the same week last year.

Creek Releases: During the month of May 2014, MMWD released 218 million gallons, or a total of 669 acre-feet, into Lagunitas and Walker creeks in west Marin. We release water throughout the year to maintain adequate flows for the fishery per our agreements with the State of California.

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 Keith Bancroft

Last December, I bought and moved into my first house (my first house!). When I moved, I brought with me a large assortment of container plantings I’d accumulated over the past dozen years or so—pineapple sage, ferns, agastache, salvia, fuchsia, honeysuckle, penstemon, bee balm, and various succulents. Now that I was in my own home and had a “real” yard to work with, I was eager to get my collection of potted plants into the ground where they belonged. But it was mid-winter, I had a seemingly never-ending list of DIY projects inside the house to keep me occupied (which, amazingly, continues to grow), and I knew the plants would be fine until I could find the time to give them a permanent in-ground home.

Save Our Water logoA few months later, just as I was starting to think about digging planting holes and getting the garden in order, a co-worker forwarded me a link to the Save Our Water website. Of particular interest to me was the section “Water-Wise Landscaping Basics,” which provides information on things to keep in mind when creating or maintaining a low water-use landscape. Even though I felt like I had a pretty good handle on water-wise gardening (based on almost 20 years working in water conservation), I found reviewing the site’s list of simple basic principles to be an excellent refresher. It’s easy to overlook the importance of mulch in reducing water use in the garden or to forget to adjust the irrigation schedule as often as one should. However, considering the record low rainfall we received last year, and the annual uncertainty of what future rain may fall, it’s a good idea for each of us to look at what we’re doing in our own gardens and make sure we’re following the basic framework of water-wise gardening.

The following is a slightly abbreviated version of the basic principles from the Save Our Water website:

Appropriate plant selection: Select trees, shrubs, and groundcovers based on their adaptability to your region’s soil and climate.

The right plants for the right soil: Knowing your soil and selecting the right kind of plants for your area is an important part of a water-wise landscape.

Limit your grass: Consider cutting back or eliminating the amount of turf you have at your house.

Efficient irrigation: The greatest waste of outdoor water is applying too much too often.

Mulch is good: Use mulch wherever possible. Mulch conserves water by significantly reducing moisture evaporation from the soil, reduces weed populations, prevents soil compaction, and moderates soil temperatures.

Appropriate maintenance: A well-designed landscape can decrease maintenance by as much as 50% through reduced mowing, once-a-year mulching, elimination of non-California-friendly plants, and more efficient watering techniques.

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by Charlene Burgi

The caps and gowns of graduation are behind us. Summer vacation has officially begun. Trips are planned and reservations are made for a long and well-deserved rest from the hubbub of routine schedules.

Alas, while preparing for vacation, we tend to put aside the fact that the evapotranspiration rate is at its highest peak in June and July, which means plants require more irrigation now than any other time of year. The days are longer and plants are at their peak performance—either flowering or fruiting. Vegetable gardens are rapidly nearing the time to begin harvesting.

The question is what to do about this conundrum of vacation plans during the garden’s critical time of need! Perhaps a few suggestions will alleviate the angst of keeping the garden alive for a week or two while you have some fun in the sun elsewhere.

  1. Get your plants in optimal health before leaving. If the plants are well-fed, insect-free, and well-hydrated, they will stand a much better chance of surviving while you are gone.
  2. Watering container plants with rope wick

    Creative water wicking

    Before leaving, remove all hanging containers. The exposure to wind and circulating air, plus heat from the sun, will dry out these plants in short order. Cluster the containers in a shady area of the garden. Place the containers that have drainage holes in trays filled with water. The soil will wick up the moisture from the tray to the root system of the plant. If you do not have drainage holes, place a large vessel of water near the cluster of container plants and insert a cotton rope or twine into the water so one end of the rope rests at the bottom. Drape the excess rope over the top of the soil in each planted container, or run individual ropes from the water to each plant. Again, the rope will wick up the water and provide moisture to each planted container. (Note: Lightly cover the water vessel to slow evaporation.)

  3. Plants in the ground may require a bit more creativity if you do not have an automatic irrigation system. There are hose timers that attach to a hose bib and are available at your local hardware or irrigation store that will automatically turn on and off at a designated day and time that you set. Run a hose to the area where plants are in need of irrigation and attach a soaker hose to the open end of the hose. Wind the soaker through the garden to each plant until all plants are adequately covered.
  4. Water jug drip system

    Water jug drip system

    Fill one-gallon empty milk containers with water and replace the cap. Insert a very tiny pin hole into the bottom of the container and place two or three like-containers around trees. (Experiment before leaving to see how long the water lasts.) Depending on the size of the pin prick, you might need to add another pin hole at the top of the container.

  5. If interested, you can add polymers to your existing soil (polymers are found at your local nursery) .The polymers will retain water and release moisture as the soil dries out. Read directions carefully before using. This is a case of, “if a little is good, a lot can be disastrous.”
  6. Lawns. Let them go! While turf grass is one of the highest consumers of water, lawns are also extremely forgiving. If your lawn is dependent on a manual sprinkler, you can either employ a hose timer, or let the lawn go into dormancy without water. After returning from vacation, resume your watering schedule and the lawn will green up in a short period of time.
  7. Mulch, mulch, mulch! Three inches of mulch in and around your plants will reduce evaporation and retain the moisture you are providing.
  8. Lastly, ask a neighbor to check in weekly. If milk jugs or water containers require refilling before your return, it wouldn’t take long to assist with this chore.

The topic of this blog is a cagey way for me to let you know I am leaving for Italy for two weeks’ vacation. Many of you know all of my grandparents came from northern Italy many, many years ago. My son, daughter, her husband, and I have family there to meet. I promise my return will fill these blogs with pictures and new-found knowledge of gardening in the “old country.” Meanwhile, enjoy the blog written by some of my former coworkers at the district who graciously offered to enlighten you each week that I am gone.

Until then, ciao!

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by Charlene Burgi

There is a line in The Velveteen Rabbit by Margery Williams that has stuck with me over the years: “Once you are Real you can’t become unreal again. It lasts for always.” I can think of several turns in life where those lines sculpted who I am today.

Odd as it might be, one of these specific changes involves water and how it is used. I’ve developed a sensitivity to both water conservation and water waste. It is an awareness that doesn’t go away once you’ve walked through that gate.

A friend and retired employee who I worked with at MMWD recently moved out of state. While gainfully employed at the district, Ken Feil and I worked in different departments with different responsibilities, yet we both kept an eye open for water waste as well as good conservation practices. Although we have retired from our positions, the awareness of water remains.

Not long after Ken and his wife Peg moved, I got a call from them. Their beautiful new home was professionally landscaped; however, their first sight of the irrigation system in action was water spewing in every direction including halfway into the street. One station had four different types of sprinkler heads, which required running the water for hours to keep some of the plants alive. Ken’s conversation with the landscape maintenance company caused further consternation: The company’s response was that the water only cost $75.00 a year and they are sitting on one of the largest underground aquifers in the United States. I am not certain if these folks are still employed at Ken and Peg’s home, but I can bet they are more educated now!

The Pit River, tributary to the Sacramento

The Pit River, tributary to the Sacramento

A knock on the door this week found my downtrodden neighbor carrying a letter stating that all irrigation to his planted fields must cease and desist. The water rights from tributaries, streams, and creeks in the area that feed the Sacramento River are to “flow free.” All the crops that feed his livestock will wither in the hot summer sun. All the hours of plowing and planting were for naught. Water in Lassen is plentiful, but unlike Ken and Peg’s landscaper, we know the groundwater can be diminished if we are not aware of surrounding conditions. We can only hope that those on the receiving end of the water we let flow freely will appreciate the sacrifice others made and not waste it.

I found comfort in this thought shortly after our neighbor’s visit. Another call came in from the neighbor living across the street from my mom’s house in Marin. She wanted us to know that a riser popped off the sprinkler system and was gushing over the landscaped area. I really appreciated her observation and taking the time to call so it could be repaired. Her call also let me know that the conservation efforts and education by those at MMWD are working.

While MMWD is dependent on water captured in the beautiful reservoirs on the Mt. Tamalpais Watershed, I recognize there are other water districts throughout the state working hard to raise awareness of conservation and water waste among their customers so they, too, realize that water is a precious commodity. Once that awareness sinks in, it will be like the line in The Velveteen Rabbit—that awareness “lasts for always.”

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Mayor Gary Phillips of San Rafael

Mayor Gary Phillips accepted the award on behalf of the City of San Rafael. See more photos from the recognition event.

At the May 20 Board of Directors meeting, MMWD launched a new conservation recognition program, “Water-Saving Heroes,” to acknowledge customers who are significantly reducing their water use and inspiring others to do the same. When the board requested a 25% voluntary water use reduction in January, these customers immediately rose to the challenge.

We’re looking for more water-saving heroes to recognize at future board meetings. If you know a water-saving hero—or if you are one—let us know!

Congratulations to the following customers who were recognized on May 20:


Nancy and Mike Duran, San Rafael

  • For the February to April time period, the Duran family reduced their water use from 12,716 gallons in 2013 to 6,732 this year—almost a 50% reduction!
  • Accomplished these savings by cutting back on unnecessary water use and capturing rainwater for their garden
  • Inspired others by tweeting about their success


Mayor Gary Phillips, City of San Rafael
To conserve water during the drought, the City of San Rafael:

  • Eliminated or reduced to a bare minimum irrigation of turf areas in city parks and sports fields and in most landscaped areas
  • Installed high-efficiency faucets, showerheads, and toilets to replace inefficient models in city facilities
  • Minimized washing of city fleet vehicles
  • Posted conservation signs above kitchen and bathroom sinks, and reminded city employees to minimize shower times and run only full dishwasher loads at city facilities

Chief Jason Weber, Marin County Fire Department
Marin County Fire took these steps to conserve water:

  • During training exercises, flowed water at bare minimum amounts and only when absolutely necessary
  • Minimized washing of fire trucks, while still keeping equipment clean and shiny through daily wiping down with chamois cloths
  • Deferred fire hydrant and hose testing where possible, and conducted required tests so as to limit water loss
  • Asked all fire personnel to reduce water use 25% by minimizing shower times, washing only full loads of clothes and dishes, watering landscaping only as needed, and repairing leaks at fire facilities


Michael Cronin, Operations Manager, EO Products, San Rafael

  • For their new facility in San Rafael, EO Products converted the water cooling system for their manufacturing process from an open system to a closed system, allowing the company to recirculate the water and save thousands of gallons.
  • Also installed faucet aerators and upgraded all their toilets to high-efficiency models

Lynn Langford, CEO, Lean Green Solutions

  • Created “Neighbor 2 Neighbor” drought event for Ross Valley residents at the Marin Art & Garden Center
  • Helped found the Marin Edible Garden and coordinate the Ross Valley Garden Tour, including partnering with MMWD to provide water-wise gardening information to tour participants


Mike Grant, Facilities Director, Marin County Office of Education

  • Arranged for MMWD Conservation Manager Dan Carney to give a presentation for all Marin County Schools’ maintenance directors to help strengthen conservation efforts in our schools

Ted Stoeckley, Science Specialist, Larkspur-Corte Madera School District

  • Contacted MMWD to request 500 of our conservation “cling sticks” to distribute to his students in 19 classrooms at Neil Cummins Elementary and Hall Middle School, who in turn took the conservation message home to their families

Parents Marnie Glickman and Sommer Au-Yeung, Science Teacher Pete Hudson, and Students of the Lower Elementary Class, Marin Montessori School, Corte Madera

  • Collaborated on developing a program at Marin Montessori School to teach students about our water system and about the drought
  • Coordinated a water conservation presentation and led students through a brainstorming session on conserving water
  • Students took home aerators, toilet leak test tablets, a sticker, and conservation information in a bucket—perfect for capturing and reusing shower warm-up water.
  • Parents reported that all the kids came home excited and made their parents test the toilet, install the aerator, and put the sticker on the fridge.


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