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Posts Tagged ‘rainfall’

by Charlene Burgi

Isn’t it wonderful! April showers continue to fill our reservoirs and replenish our groundwater. These rains work their way from the saturated earth into the creeks and drainages that comprise our watersheds. The runoff tumbles over anything in its path to reach the reservoirs that sustain all of us, our gardens, and a wealth of wildlife, too.

April is a great month! It is a time to see fruit trees blooming or watch the transformation from blossom to fruit beginning. Spring bulbs continue to dazzle us with their show of pastel colors, and the green signs of summer bulbs are slowly poking their way through the waterlogged mulch. Wildflowers are springing up all over the hills as if to say they, too, are celebrating the good earth.

What a time to celebrate this great planet. Spring is a rebirth after a long winter. Everything is anew! It is the time to appreciate our surroundings, a time to raise our awareness about how we can contribute to the health of our environment. We live in a beautiful place and we are often too busy to stop and observe the glory found right outside our doors.

It is not surprising that this is the month that we celebrate the Earth! Can I challenge you? What can you do to celebrate Earth Day? Is this the time that you can feed the soil with amendments? Start a compost pile? Farm red wiggly worms to turn kitchen scraps into amazing fertilizer? Can you find other means of killing unwanted weeds in the garden without resorting to harsh chemicals? Sheet mulch? How about planning a walk up to the reservoirs to view wildflowers or wildlife?

Earth Day Marin 2014For a more major celebration, drop in at the annual Earth Day Marin Festival this Sunday, April 6, 11 a.m. – 5 p.m. at Redwood High School in Larkspur to see some amazing programs and international entertainment. Enjoy music, speakers, storytellers, puppet shows, authors, film screenings, organic food, and so much more. MMWD will have lots of information, hands-on activities, and giveaways to help you save water and learn more about where your water comes from. And be sure to join MMWD for a fun and inspiring “water rally” at 2 p.m. at the main stage. For complete details about the festival, check out the website: earthdaymarin.org. There is something for everyone!

Speaking of websites, I confess to holding out on the vegetable gardener reading this blog. It goes without saying that long, cold winter days in Lassen find hours of my retired life on the computer seeking out the newest coneflower, the latest method for eradicating gophers, or the tastiest tomato to grow this season. It was during such perusing that I discovered a website that costs nothing to join and contains oodles of information, planners, journals, and interactive design pages for your vegetable garden. The site provides a weekly “to-do” list so you’ll know exactly when to plant indoors, move seedlings outdoors, etc. You can find this treasured website at smartgardener.com. Try it and let me know what you think!

In closing, a friend sent an email with beautiful pictures accompanied by quotes. I couldn’t help but laugh at this quote as it tied in perfectly with this week’s blog: “Living on Earth is expensive, but it does include a free trip around the sun every year!” How can we beat that!

Have a great weekend and let me know your experience at the Earth Day Marin Festival!

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Phoenix Lake

Phoenix Lake

While the 2014 drought continues, MMWD is in far better condition than earlier this year, thanks to recent rains and reduced water consumption. This means mandatory water use reductions will not be required this year. However, the district’s request for a 25% voluntary reduction in water use is still in effect.

Rainfall in both February and March significantly improved MMWD’s reservoir levels and water consumption has been lower this year than last for each of the last eight weeks.

Here are the current water statistics:

Reservoir Levels: As of March 26, reservoir storage is 61,782 acre-feet,* or 78% of capacity. The average for this date is 73,083 acre-feet, or 92% of capacity. Total capacity is 79,566 acre-feet.

Rainfall: Rainfall this fiscal year to date (July 1-March 26) is 27.06 inches. Average for the same period is 45.48 inches.

Water Use: Water use for the week of March 17-23 averaged 18.2 million gallons per day, compared to 20.4 million gallons per day for the same week last year.

Creek Releases: During the month of February 2014 MMWD released 367 million gallons, or a total of 1,126 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. See also our Drought Information page.

*One acre-foot is 325,851 gallons

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by Charlene Burgi

covered rain barrelAll reports are that you’re been enjoying some good rain in Marin! Are you considering ways to start catching some of this precious stuff to use during the dry times? Do you have a plan?

You might ask what’s to plan except to run down to the local hardware store, pick up a barrel or two, and direct your downspouts into the open barrels. Or the plan may entail setting out buckets, pots, and pans around the garden with the thought of capturing any raindrops that happen to fall into them.

Several questions come to mind when thinking about these types of plans. Did you calculate the amount of water that will be collected from the roof going into the barrels? What happens to the overflow? Will the excess water erode the area around the barrel, or is it directed away to protect your foundation and prevent flooding? What becomes of the harvested water until it is used? Will the uncovered barrels, buckets, pots, and pans become a breeding ground for mosquitoes or see critters falling in with no way out? So many questions!

Harvesting rainwater comes with a responsibility that is often overlooked. The concern isn’t about taking advantage of falling rain for conservation purposes, but doing it in a way that considers the health and welfare of your property and our environment. If you don’t have a plan yet but would like to collect rainwater, let’s outline a plan that is a win-win for all concerned.

Let’s do the easy step first. If the collection containers are not covered, move the water into an enclosed container immediately. Many commercial barrels are sold with a water faucet already attached for easy hose or drip assembly. Next, consider what you are going to do with the collected water. Rain barrels are a good fit for watering a few plants under the eaves of your house during the winter. However, watering the entire garden will require a much larger vessel in the form of a tank or multiple connected rainwater catchment containers or bladders—which leads me to the next step.

Calculate the amount of rain runoff from your roof so you can anticipate what size tank/container to purchase. Measure the square footage of the portion of the roof that directs water to the downspout(s) you are using for collection (length x width = square feet). Now, multiply the square footage by the number of inches of rainfall, then multiply that times a conversion factor of 0.623. For example, let’s assume the roof collection area is 1,000 square feet and that during the big storm earlier this month your neighborhood received 10 inches of rain. The calculations would look like this:

1,000 x 10 x 0.623 = 6,230 gallons of water

If you only have two rain barrels collecting a total of 90 gallons of water, where, might I ask, does that remaining 6,140 gallons go? The plan must include directing excess water into rain gardens or bioswales to soak it up, spread it out, and sink it into the richly prepared soil.

rainwater harvesting tank

At the Marin Art & Garden Center, runoff from a shed roof collects in a 2,500-galllon tank.

If you like working out these problems, calculate the gallons of rainfall you can collect for the year based on the above formula using your average yearly rainfall. Now calculate the water needs of the plants in your garden for the year based on the average evapotranspiration rate for your area. (Hint: WUCOLS can help with water needs of your plants and CIMIS can help with yearly ET averages.) Is your water storage big enough to support your garden for the year? How about a month? And where on your property would you install a container able to store all that water?

I hope this exercise has been fun as well as informative. Meanwhile, enjoy the pitter patter of raindrops! I know I will!

Go Green with Graywater

The County of Marin is hosting a workshop Saturday, March 15, to teach the community about graywater reuse and installing laundry-to-landscape systems. The workshop is open to all and will be 9:30 a.m. to 12 p.m. at San Rafael Corporate Center, 740 Lindaro Street in San Rafael. Get the complete details here.

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In this, the shortest month of the year, it didn’t take long for a concentrated series of heavy storms to significantly enhance our water supply picture. For four days starting February 6, the first “pineapple express” storm system of the year brought nearly 15 inches of rain to the district’s Lagunitas Creek watershed.

Phoenix, Lagunitas, and Bon Tempe reservoirs filled to capacity and runoff into the district’s other four reservoirs continued for a full week post-storm. Total reservoir storage increased more than 11,400 acre-feet,* or 27%, to 53,223 acre-feet by February 17. This is 67% of total storage capacity and 78% of normal storage. Current rains will bring these numbers even higher.

While MMWD’s water supply situation is vastly improved, the drought is still with us and certainly a serious issue in other parts of California. Governor Jerry Brown declared a statewide drought emergency in January and called for 20% voluntary cutbacks in water use by all Californians. The MMWD Board of Directors requested a 25% voluntary reduction.

This spring the board will reconsider water use restrictions based on April 1 storage. Given the improved reservoir levels, MWMD does not anticipate a need for mandatory restrictions. A voluntary reduction may still be needed for 2014, although the level could change. See our Drought 2014 Information page for more.

Here are the current water statistics:

Reservoir Levels: As of February 26, reservoir storage is 53,590 acre-feet,* or 67% of capacity. The average for this date is 70,363 acre-feet, or 88% of capacity. Total capacity is 79,566 acre-feet.

Rainfall: Rainfall this fiscal year to date (July 1-February 26) is 22.87 inches. Average for the same period is 39.06 inches.

Water Use: Water use for the week of February 17-23 averaged 14.6 million gallons per day, compared to 17.3 million gallons per day for the same week last year.

Creek Releases: During the month of December 2013 MMWD released 439 million gallons, or a total of 1,346 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 our homepage.

*One acre-foot is 325,851 gallons

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by Eric Ettlinger

Coho season is wrapping up, and thankfully it’s ending with more of a bang than a whimper. In late January, at the typical end of the coho spawning season, the San Francisco Chronicle ran the headline “Crisis for the coho” with a couple of pictures showing the extremely dry conditions in the Lagunitas Creek watershed. As if on cue, the rain started falling a few days later and coho spawning took off. Since then spawning activity has subsided and in the last week we’ve seen what are likely the last few coho of the season. Our preliminary watershed totals are 433 coho and 203 redds, which is roughly double the size of the coho run three years ago.

Steelhead (pictured) have also been spawning in impressive numbers. In the last three weeks MMWD biologists have seen 153 steelhead and 126 redds. Steelhead are likely to continue spawning through at least April, and at this pace we’re looking at a very good year for steelhead. Rain is forecast to return late next week, which should bring up another wave of steelhead spawners.

steelhead female and small male

Steelhead female and small male

steelhead male

Steelhead male

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by Charlene Burgi

This past week found us all embracing the rains falling from above. A whopping 14.76 inches of rain fell at Lake Lagunitas. The 41,924 acre-feet of water stored in our lakes before the storm rose to 50,748 acre-feet after. Are we out of the woods regarding the drought? Can we return to our old ways of thinking about how we use water? No. We are in much better shape after the storm, but we can’t let the rain make us complacent. Keep up the great work you are doing. Keep focused on conservation!

It was easy to stay focused on conservation with Brad Lancaster, the guru “water stretcher” extraordinaire, speaking in the Bay Area on Monday night and Tuesday morning. Tuesday morning found the room packed as Brad shared his experiences and findings in such places as Saudi Arabia, Israel, and South Korea. Some of the sites he spoke of lived successfully on as little as four inches of water a year!

Brad spoke about how these countries focused on graywater use as well as capturing and storing rainwater. He talked about using plant materials that were indigenous to the region and about grading to create bioswales so water slows down, spreads out, and sinks into the soil instead of running off. He talked about creating sponges of our soils by letting clippings lay where they fall to allow for natural composting.

His lectures were so detailed it would take several blog posts to cover all the points that he discussed. Therefore, once I get home, I plan to spend several weeks exploring in more detail the topics he covered.

I must admit, being in Marin in February was a double treat. First, the rains seemed to lift everyone’s spirits. Secondly, everywhere I went, Daphne odora was in bloom. The fragrance wafting through the air intercepted me entering the bank on Fourth Street in San Rafael, walking toward the building where Brad spoke, and even visiting my daughter’s home. Daphne is the perfect plant for me. Deer don’t eat it; it thrives in the deepest shade with minimal water; it blooms at the time of year when most other plants lay dormant; and, oh, that fragrance can stop you dead in your tracks! It is a plant that thrives on neglect. Pampering it will leave you disappointed.

Flowering quince

Flowering quince

There is another plant that captured my attention while in Marin. Chaenomeles, otherwise known as flowering quince, is a beautiful plant that is rarely seen in gardens anymore, yet carries many of the same favorable qualities as daphne. Deer don’t bother it; minimal water is needed to keep it looking good; and it comes in beautiful shades of red, orange, pink, coral, or white. The difference in the two plants is flowering quince is much happier in the sun and, while lacking fragrance, it will thrive in temperatures well below zero—a plant after my own heart. It didn’t take long before I was driving to the local nurseries choosing just the right plants to live in Lassen! Of course, while there, I couldn’t leave without picking up bareroot edible crops such as asparagus, seed potatoes, and onion sets.

Water HarvestingA busy week in Marin has come to a close and finds me preparing to go back home with my head filled with new ideas about how to approach rainwater harvesting and graywater use, and a burning desire to get my hands in the soil to plant new-found treasures. I can only hope our heavy rainfall at home provides workable soil that is no longer frozen!

Wishing you all a very Happy Valentine’s Day.

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by Eric Ettlinger

Female coho

Female coho (photo by Rosa Albanese)

It’s been an exciting couple of weeks in the Lagunitas Creek watershed. In my last update I described how coho salmon spawning had unexpectedly jumped up (so to speak) following a tiny bit of wet weather on January 30. Another small rain event followed that survey, coinciding with an increase in water releases by MMWD, and more spawning ensued. Over three long and wet days last week MMWD biologists surveyed most of Lagunitas Creek, and finished the uppermost section of creek this morning. In total we counted 118 coho salmon and 56 new coho redds. We also counted 118 salmon during the previous week, but it’s difficult to say how much of this coincidence was due to counting the same fish twice. To date we’ve seen 349 coho and 161 coho redds. This is an increase over three years ago, but still far less than the large coho run we were expecting.

The other big news was, of course, the enormous amount of rain we received. Since Friday the Kent Lake rain gauge has recorded over 11 inches of rain, while the gauge at the top of Mount Tamalpais recorded over 21 inches! This has helped our water supply situation and has finally allowed salmon to swim into the tributaries. Flows are still too high and turbid to conduct surveys, but later this week we’ll be investigating how many salmon survived both drought and flood to return to these creeks at last.

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by Eric Ettlinger

coho salmon pair

Coho salmon pair in Lagunitas Creek, January 31, 2014

Finally some good news from Lagunitas Creek! Last Friday MMWD biologists conducted surveys to get a baseline salmon count ahead of a three-day increase in stream flows. This was the last “Upstream Migration Flow” of the season, and we wanted to document how many salmon spawned in response to the extra water. We were blown away to see significant numbers of salmon spawning throughout the creek before the flow even started. Apparently the 0.07″ of rain we received on Thursday was enough to encourage coho to finally spawn. In total we observed 118 live coho and 45 new coho redds. So far this season we’ve documented 252 coho and 103 coho redds. On Friday we also saw seven spawning steelhead and seven new steelhead redds. Finally, during a partial survey of Walker Creek (the next salmon stream north of Lagunitas Creek), we found the first coho redd and coho carcass of the season.

The Upstream Migration Flow coincided with 0.8″ of rain on Sunday, and we’ll be documenting the salmon response in Lagunitas and Walker Creeks for the rest of the week. By next week we should have a pretty good idea how many salmon survived the last few months and finally spawned.

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The weather in 2013 was remarkable in its consistency. Regardless of the season, it was just plain dry—winter, spring, summer and fall. In fact, 2013 set a new record low for rainfall. The Mt. Tamalpais Watershed received just 10.68 inches of rain last year, far lower than the prior record of 19 inches set in 1929 and significantly lower than the annual average of 52 inches.

Unfortunately, 2014 is bringing us more of the same so far. This January we received a barely measurable 0.01 inches of rain; average for the month is 10.86 inches.

Drought conditions now prevail in Marin and throughout the state. On January 17 Governor Brown called on all Californians to voluntarily reduce their water use by 20 percent. On January 21 the MMWD Board of Directors took that request a step further, asking customers to voluntarily reduce their water use by 25 percent.

Depending on total reservoir storage on April 1, that voluntary cutback will become mandatory. Unless a substantial amount of rainfall and runoff occurs between now and April 1, storage levels are projected to be below 40,000 acre-feet,* the level that triggers the mandatory rationing. Any mandatory rationing plan will be based on water consumption prior to 2014, so cutting back now will not result in any kind of penalty should mandatory rationing be enacted on April 1. See our Drought 2014 Information page for more.

Here are the current water statistics:

Reservoir Levels: As of January 31, reservoir storage is 42,127 acre-feet,* or 53 percent of capacity. The average for this date is 65,130 acre-feet, or 82 percent of capacity. Total capacity is 79,566 acre-feet.

Rainfall: Rainfall this fiscal year to date (July 1-January 31) is 3.80 inches. Average for the same period is 29.87 inches.

Water Use: Water use for the week of January 20-26 averaged 21.1 million gallons per day, compared to 16.8 million gallons per day for the same week last year.

Creek Releases: During the month of December 2013 MMWD released 439 million gallons, or a total of 1,346 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 our homepage.

*One acre-foot is 325,851 gallons.

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by Christina Mountanos

It’s both remarkable and worrisome that the local forecast is still filled to the brim with sunshine. With 2013 earning the title of driest year in MMWD’s recorded history, and no end in sight, everyone I know is at least a little on-edge. Veterans of the 1976-77 drought have been busy tightening their belts, and our phones have been abuzz with customers expressing their concerns. One thing’s for sure, the time for everyone to do their part is now! Where can you begin? If you’re on a limited budget, a new homeowner, or just don’t know where to start, the following list can help! Check out some of the most popular, and effective, ways to save:

1. Check for leaks and repair them immediately. One in three of our customers have leaks and don’t even realize it. Don’t become part of the statistic! Check your home for leaky toilets and dripping fixtures. Many repairs are simple, inexpensive, and can reduce your indoor water usage by nearly 15 percent. Need some guidance? Read our fun, informative instructions on “How to Be a Leak Detective” to get started.

2. Turn off your automatic sprinkler system and water plants only as needed. Switching your irrigation timer to the “off” position is an easy, no-cost way to save water. Rest assured that despite the dry weather conditions, plants need about 80 percent less water this time of year than they do in the summer months. Keep an eye on your garden and only water periodically, if plants are showing signs of stress. Once spring rolls around, let us help you decide when it’s right to turn things back on. Sign up for our online Weekly Watering Schedule and receive weekly e-mails with guidelines on how much to water.

3. Check your water pressure and install pressure-compensating faucet aerators and showerheads. High water pressure in your home can cause faucets and showerheads to use more water, so it’s important to know what you have. Sixty pounds per square inches is just right for most homes, but check with a plumber to be sure. Also consider installing pressure-compensating showerheads and faucet aerators. Installing a two-gallon-per-minute showerhead can save up to 2,900 gallons annually. Putting in new aerators on your bathroom and kitchen faucets can save 700 gallons more.

4. Check your water meter. Take charge of your water usage by learning to read your meter and doing some simple math. It’s just as easy as reading the odometer in your car and only takes a few minutes. Taking weekly readings will help you spot any unusual usage, catch leaks, and avoid surprises on your bill. Use the handy form we have available online to record your readings or download a smart-phone application to store it for you!

5. Participate in MMWD’s free conservation programs. Very few things in this world are free. Fortunately, one thing you can still get is a water use survey with one of our conservation specialists. Let us help you identify ways to save water in your home (indoors and out) and provide you with complimentary showerheads and aerators (as needed, of course). Call our Conservation Assistance Program hotline at (415) 945-1523 to set up an appointment.

6. Install high-efficiency WaterSense-labeled toilets. Toilets are responsible for nearly 30 percent of our indoor water usage. That’s why, time-and-time-again, replacing old, inefficient models tops the list of ways to save. Purchase a new high-efficiency toilet (HET) and save 20-60 percent per flush, for a significant reduction of 13,000 gallons annually. Consider dual-flush to further your savings, check map-testing.com to get your hands on cold, hard facts about performance, and go to our website for rebate information on qualifying models so you can get paid to save! Toilets save water year-round, and you’ll find them in price ranges made for everyone.

7. Install a high-efficiency clothes washer. Second only to toilets are the workhorses we call clothes washers. You can put your old 30-40 gallon clunker to shame by purchasing a new high-efficiency model that uses 18 gallons or less. Take advantage of our current rebate program to save water, energy, and money.

8. Install a WaterSense-labeled smart irrigation controller. Purchase a new “smart” controller and never forget to reduce your watering schedule again! The EPA estimates these controllers—which take their cues from real-time weather conditions—can save the average family 8,800 gallons annually. Schedule a pre-inspection with one of our conservation specialists, then take advantage of MMWD’s rebate for $20 per active station. Smart controllers are made by a variety of manufacturers and, like toilets, are available in a range of prices.

9. Add compost and mulch. Amend, amend, amend your soil. Gets your hands on some organic compost, or make your own! The benefits are overwhelming. Feeding your soil with compost nourishes plants, helps with aeration, resolves compaction issues, prevents runoff, and helps retain moisture. Since plants residing in amended soils fare better in drought conditions, twice a year spread two to four inches of compost over the top or your soil, then dig it into the top six to 12 inches. Follow-up with two to four inches of mulch and get ready to help make whatever moisture we receive this rainy season last!

10. Make your garden water-smart. Upgrade your irrigation system by converting some of your spray systems to drip irrigation. Or, improve the efficiency of your current sprinklers by changing them to high-efficiency rotor-type nozzles. Rotors can fit into existing spray bodies and use one-third less water. By putting out water in small, finger-like streams, they water slowly, more evenly, and reduce water loss due to evaporation and runoff. While you’re at it, consider removing some of your turf grass. A small-sized area of turf, with a spray system operating at ten gallons per minute, can easily use 100 gallons per day, 300 per week, and 15,600 annually! Replacing your lawn with native, low-water use plants is a great way to conserve water and save money. Check out the links on our “Water-Wise Plants” page to find some gorgeous inspirations.

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