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MMWD Blog: Think Blue Marin

Welcome to our blog! Written by staff at MMWD, “Think Blue Marin” explores all things water in south and central Marin—water supplies, conservation, new projects, watershed management, and more.

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Jul 17

Liquid Gold

Posted on July 17, 2018 at 9:08 AM by Ann Vallee

by Cameron Pey, Sir Francis Drake High School, MMWD 2018 Water Scholar

There shouldn't be anything special about water. Colorless, tasteless and odorless, it seems far more forgettable than essential. But for some reason, life on Earth requires water more than anything else.

Food, shelter, and clean water are the three most basic needs of every human being on the planet Earth. In many environments, humans can survive without shelter. In times of famine, humans can survive up to three weeks with no food.

Water, however, is an entirely different story. Water is essential to human survival. The human body can survive no more than a week without water, with this time being cut down to mere hours in extreme heat. Renowned marine biologist Sylvia Earle once said, ''No water, no life. No blue, no green". Water is imperative for life. Our planet is 75% water; our bodies are 70% water. It makes perfect sense that humans, as well as most other forms of life, wither almost immediately when it is kept from us.

Water is the single most fundamental need of every human on planet Earth. Water is our planet's most precious gift, and has made Earth a rare oasis in a universe full of inhabitable worlds. However, the access to clean water is a privilege, not a right, in today's society.

The principle of scarcity in economics tells us that society has insufficient resources to fulfill our unlimited needs. This is indeed the case with clean water. The human race's need for clean water is too large to be completely satisfied, at least for very long, in the way the world allocates water today. While in some parts of the world, people flood their shamrock-green lawns with water, in other parts of the world people die every day from dehydration. The management of our most precious resource is one of the most complex problems modem society faces. Around the world, people walk miles upon miles every day just to acquire the water they need to survive. In Marin County, however, we are lucky to have both the natural landscapes that allow for the accumulation and collection of water as well as regulation that favors sustainability. While other parts of the world have had to deal with issues involving the privatization of water, Marin County has the privilege of being able to value environmental friendliness over profit and other products of corporate greed.

For our Marin community, water is often overlooked and undervalued. An average Marin resident thinks water streaming out of a faucet isn't a miracle or even a reason to smile. But this stream of water coming from the kitchen sink or the showerhead is a gift to which most people in the world don't have access. We are very lucky, yet many take our clean water for granted.

Marin County reservoirs allow our county to be rich in natural beauty and open space. The reservoirs are not only a scenic locale to hike and bike around; animals and wildlife are able to thrive in the land that they once ruled. Due to the attention our community has given to the protection of wildlife, fish flourish in the reservoirs across the county, from Kent Lake to the Nicasio Reservoir. These same water reservoirs allowed our county to survive during the most recent California drought, and brought us out of the drought faster than other areas of California. While many of these other counties are forced to depend entirely on water from outside sources, our county is, for the majority, self-sufficient due to our well-managed reservoirs. 

Not only is water a crucial resource for our community, but also clean water. It wouldn't matter if Marin County, even in a drought, had one hundred times the amount of water we have now if it was polluted. The cleanliness and safety of our water is what makes it so valuable. Unclean water is often more of a curse than a blessing; unclean water spreads disease and sickness, while clean water spreads and creates life.

Some give the name "liquid gold" to oil, but this epithet is far more accurate when given to water. Clean water is more valuable than gold. It is just as precious and rare, but also keeps us alive. Each drop of the stuff escaping a leaky faucet is a drop of liquid gold down the drain. Every rainfall should be treated as a deluge of treasure falling from the sky.

Humans have struck a delicate balance with water. Obviously, human beings are land creatures. We can't breathe water into our lungs nor survive long stretches beneath the water's surface. We are unique in that water, though not our home, is still a place of comfort for us. From a very young age, humans splash around and laugh in water, whether in lakes or just at bathtime. Water is the single most necessary substance for human survival, yet also can be life-threatening in the form of floods and other water-related natural disasters. Both the lack and the overabundance of water can be disastrous; yet somehow, the grand majority of the time, our community has just the right amount. This balance is not easy to achieve.

Water has value even beyond keeping our community (both the people and the animals) alive. Water allows us, both the human race at large and the people of Marin County, to thrive.

The water that streams into our baths and showers keeps us clean. The swimming pools we fill with water allow for the pursuit of athletic perfection. Clean water allows Marin's famous forests and nature to grow and prosper. Gardens and parks all around our community flourish due to Marin County water. The reservoirs in Marin County, and the natural space surrounding them allow residents and visitors to find a time to connect with nature in their busy lives. Water careening out of sprinklers turns the front yard into the stage upon which our children dance and play. Water contributes to our quality of life in addition to keeping us alive.

Water is a resource of paramount importance for both for the entire world and our Marin community. It is something we must cherish and preserve. Water both gives us life and adds quality and joy to that same life. More precious than gold and more necessary than food, clean water is essential for any community, including Marin, to both survive and to thrive.

Cameron Pey About Cameron
Cameron Pey is a senior at Sir Francis Drake High School and lives in San Anselmo. After graduation, she will attend Duke University and plans to study Economics. In her free time, Cameron enjoys playing tennis, going on hikes with her dog, and spending time with friends.

Jul 13

The Element of Surprise

Posted on July 13, 2018 at 11:00 AM by Ann Vallee

by Charlene Burgi

Have you ever walked into your garden and found a bit of vegetation emerging that you know you didn’t plant? I am not talking about a weed. (Okay, I will give you that one since by definition any unwanted plant is a weed.) I am talking about a little greenery growing in an obscure part of the garden, or the fuzzy leaf that drives your curiosity to allow it to grow. Surely I am not the only inquisitive gardener who wants to see the results of these self-sown seeds? 

Twice this summer I’ve been enthralled by these elements of surprise. Allowing these plants to grow has led to two unexpected and polar opposite results. 

pansyWhile sweeping around the hot tub, I noted an intense purple flower off the back side of the deck. There, within the confines of the boulders beneath the deck, grew the perfect pansy. This plant is thriving on its own in the shade of a large tree and without much in the way of nutrients … at least, none that I can see or assisted with providing! Over the years, duff from the tree above apparently settled into the crevices of the native boulders, and time has turned that duff into a growing medium rich enough to support this little treasure.

The other surprise came in the form of what I assumed to be a native plant growing in front of the four-foot-tall birdbath that provides a focal point for the living room windows. The gray-green fuzzy leaves seemed demure at the beginning of spring. However, the plant was soon growing at warp speed. I felt as if I were watching a “Jack and the Beanstalk” cartoon. This mystery plant is now well over six feet tall and creating a new focal point completely blocking the view of the birdbath from the house.

mystery plantI had no clue what was growing. Even with poring over my extensive library, checking the Calscape website, and throwing out pictures to friends who know their native plants, the mystery plant remained just that—a mystery. It took a retired MMWD plant aficionado to come back with the answer. Can I stump the stars of this blog and challenge you to identify this beauty? (Hint: It is not a native after all.) Stay tuned next week for the answer.

Current gardening trends seem to encourage a freedom to mix plants up. Clovers and daisies mixed with lawn grasses are frequently found on landscape websites. Formal clipped hedges are allowed to grow freeform. Meadows, rain gardens and wildflower gardens add an element of surprise as seeds are carried to other parts of the garden by birds and the winds. This is an exercise in restraint if you are willing to allow the garden to naturalize. One major plus is less water will be needed and, depending on your tolerance, less maintenance. How many of you can rise to the challenge and let it grow? I can promise some delightful surprises … not to mention puzzles to solve!

Jul 06

July in the Garden

Posted on July 6, 2018 at 8:08 AM by Ann Vallee

by Charlene Burgi

July can be a stressful time in the garden—for our plants, that is. The cause? Our plants are putting on more growth as well as more fruit and flowers, the sunlight hours are longer, and the evapotranspiration (ET) rate has reached its peak. This is the time when our plants typically require more water than any other time of the year. 

 plant wilted in summer sun
 Plant wilted in summer heat

 succulent leaf types
Succulent leaf types
Evapotranspiration is the water lost from exposed soil through evaporation and from plants through transpiration (people perspire, plants transpire). Plants may wilt or experience burned leaf tips if they cannot get enough moisture to compensate for the lost water. 

Water loss from soil is a relatively easy fix. When covered with a thick layer of organic mulch, the soil will retain moisture far longer than soil exposed to the sun. Mulch will also keep the roots of your plants cooler, allowing them to access more available water to keep them viable during the heat of the day. Additionally, mulch helps limit unwanted competition, as weed seeds have difficulty germinating under mulch. Weeds can and do rob your plants of needed water!

Plant transpiration is a bit more difficult to control. Choosing low-water-use plants for the hot sun exposures of the garden or native plants that go dormant during the summer are a few options to offset the amount of moisture required during July. Plants with thick succulent- or leather-type leaves retain their own reservoirs of water, and are another great choice for the sun. 

But what of existing plants that tend to wilt despite the moisture content in the soil? First of all, when planting moderate- to high-water-using plants with a lot of foliage surface (like hydrangeas), consider the exposure where they are placed in the garden. The recipe for success for these types of plants is to choose a location receiving morning sun and afternoon shade to save them from heat-wilt. Consider, too, that their large, thin and abundant leaves require a lot more water to keep them turgid. Thus their wilting doesn’t necessarily mean these types of plants are lacking water. It is only their inability to draw the water up fast enough to offset the plant from wilting. Typically, as evening approaches, the wilting plant will recover without damage or, at worst, might experience some burned leave edges. 

Another idea to help sun-exposed plants through heat spells is to provide shade cloth cover during the dog days of summer heat. Constructing a tent or lean-to to protect the thin leaves will ward off the scorching heat from the direct sunlight. You might think of that shade cloth cover as the equivalent of our sunblock lotions. Shade cloth even comes in different percentages providing different levels of protection from the sun.

Most important, while our plants are experiencing stressful days ahead, remember that we, too, must remain hydrated and plan our time in the sun accordingly.