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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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Mar 16

Fix a Leak

Posted on March 16, 2018 at 10:46 AM by Ann Vallee

by Charlene Burgi

Fix a Leak Week 2018A major pipe in my Novato home opted to commemorate the 10th annual Fix a Leak Week a little early by spewing water all over the hardwood floors in the kitchen. Oh, the pain! Plumbers located the culprit, fixed the violation and informed me that it could happen again.

You see, my house was built in the early ‘50s when galvanized pipes were the choice for water conveyance. Over time galvanized pipes can rust from the inside out making for thin pipes. Since water needs pressure to reach our faucets, that pressure can play havoc and create holes in very old plumbing. To this I can now attest. The outcome of my pipes’ Fix a Leak Week festivities is I’ll be replacing not only the damaged hardwood floors, but also the galvanized pipes in the house. Did I mention the pain?

This was a major leak, but even less obvious minor leaks can add up. How about your home? Leaks could be coming from an outside faucet or an occasional drip from a bathroom sink. Those tiny drips can surprise you with major water losses. Those of you who are math fans might enjoy visiting the USGS drip calculator to figure out just how much water is wasted by three tiny drops of water in a minute—and rarely are drips that few and far between. 

There is another common type of leak in our homes that is not as easily identified. Can you guess? It is known as the silent leaker and consumes vast quantities of water without so much as the tell-tale drip sound experienced with faucets. The culprit can be found in the upper portion of our toilets. There you may find a seal that is ill-fit or worn out and does not seat on the flange securely, thus allowing water to seep into the lower bowl undetected. The lower bowl is constructed to allow this water to slip quietly down the drain unbeknownst to you. Fortunately, there’s a simple test you can do to check for these silent leaks.

While working at MMWD, I recall getting an occasional phone call about toilets automatically flushing without anyone in the room. This is a case where the leak is more than an occasional drip. A leaking toilet can waste more than 200 gallons of water a day. That is a lot of water considering an average bathtub filled halfway is equivalent to 40 gallons of water. That means you could take five baths a day with what is going down the drain. Or, for those who prefer showers, assuming your showerheads emit two gallons of water per minute, you could shower for more than 1½ hours every day with those 200 gallons of water. Is your head swimming yet?

And speaking of swimming, uncovered swimming pools lose a phenomenal amount of water due to evaporation. How much? The number of inches of evapotranspiration we post each week for the Weekly Watering Schedule is also the number of inches of water your uncovered pool is losing. If your pool leaks, you may be losing even more. Many pools have automatic fills to keep the water at the correct level, which keeps you in the dark that water loss is occurring. 

This Fix a Leak Week, I hope your curiosity will send you on a fact-finding mission around your property. MMWD’s How to Be a Leak Detective brochure can help you get started finding and fixing these water-wasters.

Mar 13

Lagunitas Creek Spawner Update: Unusual Fish Observations Continue

Posted on March 13, 2018 at 9:18 AM by Emma Detwiler

Written by: Aquatic Ecologist Eric Ettlinger

Since my last spawner update we endured an exceptionally dry February with relatively few salmonid observations. We saw impressive numbers of steelhead in January and looked forward to peak spawning time in February. However, spawning activity declined through the month and steelhead were mostly congregated in Lagunitas Creek pools. We also observed seven coho and two coho redds in early February, which isn’t unusual. Our preliminary season total is 403 live coho and 87 coho redds. That’s fewer redds than we saw three years ago, although the redd total will likely increase once we review data from 70 redds that weren’t classified in the field.

Last Thursday we were finally hit by the second strongest storm of the season, which dropped over three inches of rain that day. After a wet weekend flows receded enough to allow us to survey Lagunitas Creek, San Geronimo Creek, and Devil’s Gulch. We observed 54 steelhead and 30 new redds, which was an above average week for March. Unfortunately those observations didn’t make up for the low levels of spawning last month, and our steelhead redd total stands at 115, or somewhat below average. Here’s a video of one of those steelhead swimming up a long, shallow riffle in San Geronimo Creek:

Finally, the season of unusual fish observations isn’t over. Last week we observed a fresh, bright red, three-year-old male coho. This hopelessly late fish was seen trying to spawn with a female steelhead while aggressively driving off two much larger male steelhead. Typically the last coho of the season are in very poor shape and none had ever been seen past the third week of February. How a coho remained in top form in March is one more mystery to add to a year full of them.

Mar 09

Scaling It Down

Posted on March 9, 2018 at 10:38 AM by Ann Vallee

by Charlene Burgi

A friend in Lassen asked if I was interested in seeing a big project he was working on. He called it “plug and pond.” He thought I would enjoy visiting the site, knowing my passion for water and how it relates to landscaping.

To be honest, I had no idea what he was talking about until we drove for a few miles along the creek on his property. At times this creek can cause flooding in town. As we drove along, we stopped to investigate the workings and discussed certain sections of the project. It didn’t take long for it to dawn on me that the project is just an enormous version of a principle this blog has covered in the past: slow it down, spread it out, sink it in.

Unknowingly, my friend was using Brad Lancaster’s methodology of “planting water.” Brad is an expert in the field of rainwater harvesting and water management and the guru of making the most of what nature provides. I’ve mentioned him in this blog in the past when writing about ideas for directing water from downspouts into the garden. 

My friend’s project was exciting as I could picture how it could be scaled down to work in the average residential property – especially in hilly Marin where we can get heavy rains that cascade into our gardens. In the past I’ve written about how the water entering our properties seeks its own level. Without our assistance, water can find its way into areas that may not be acceptable to us. When that happens, we can employ our knowledge to redirect future water flows.

Water flow can be directed in several ways using the “slow, spread and sink” method, without the need for extensive drainage work. As I watched the flow of water along the creek on my friend’s property, I noted how numerous curves cut into the bank and well-placed boulders within the creek bed helped to slow the flow of water. Along the creek bank were large, sporadic ponds that provided a place for the water to spread out. These, too, helped slow the water from gushing unbridled through the land. And should the ponds overflow, there were deep toughs cut and backfilled with more boulders to help sink water back into the aquifer. 

These landscape features can be translated to our gardens on a smaller scale. For example, water from downspouts can be directed into seasonal dry creek beds that meander through the garden in curvilinear paths to slow the water down. A dry creek bed can guide water near trees and shrubs along its path to assist with deep watering the root systems of these lucky plants. 

Spreading the water out can also be accomplished on a smaller scale than the ponds found at my friend’s place. In our home gardens we can create rain gardens, which are shallow collection places for water to come to rest. Plants that thrive in wet areas are perfect for growing in rain gardens. As the collected water evaporates, the vegetation continues to thrive. A very attractive area can be created by installing a few boulders and accenting with Siberian iris and beautiful native plants that can withstand wet feet during some times of the years. The list of plants surviving in these conditions may surprise you!

Finally, my friend’s troughs also can be downsized for the home garden in the form of bioswales. Oft times these earthen berms are backfilled with nothing more than a porous material such as bark or mulch that allows the water to sink back into the ground. For hillside gardeners, bioswales are the perfect answer for capturing runoff from the property above, slowing it down, and sinking it in. 

Projects, no matter the scale, are rewarding when the end result provides a safety net for our house foundations and gardens, helping to protect them against damaging flooding and erosion. How are you planting your water? Use your imagination. Take a walk in nature to see how it happens without the helping hand of man, then mirror those patterns in your garden. 

Curves (top) and ponds (bottom) help the creek water slow down, spread out, sink in.