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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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Jan 20

Between Raindrops

Posted on January 20, 2017 at 12:10 PM by Ann Vallee

by Charlene Burgi

It is cold and wet outside. The storms just keep moving in, exacerbating already unwelcoming conditions in the garden. The thought of working outside is shunned as thoughts drift toward indoor activities. At best, our focus turns toward the gardening catalogs that filter into our mailboxes at this time of year—we can dream, right?

Let's face it, even avid gardeners find that January in the garden holds less appeal. Yet garden chores beckon. Fruit trees require pruning, as do our roses and shrubs. The second or third treatment of dormant sprays should be applied. Cleaning up the fallen petal litter of our camellias will protect them from fungal petal blight, which can develop in wet conditions. The storms may have left their mark in broken branches that now require removal. Stakes holding young plants upright might be tilting due to wind and soggy soil. And a walk around the garden may reveal low spots where water collects and causes mulch to float away. Erosion may point out where better drainage is needed.

This is the optimal time to plan a trip to the nursery for picking out your bare root trees, shrubs and roses, as well as perennial fruit and vegetable plants such as grapes, strawberries, asparagus, rhubarb and assorted berries. A large selection of ball-and-burlap specimen plants should be available as well. Look for such beauties as dwarf Hinoki cypress and bird’s nest cypress. Various unusual pines and spruce also may be in stock. Remember that bare root as well as ball-and-burlap plants arrive in the dead of winter only.

Winter houseplant cleaning
 Winter houseplant cleaning
On days when it is too wet to work outside, there are still chores that can be done. Rinse the leaves of houseplants with warm water to free them of any dust, and transplant root-bound houseplants to larger containers. Pruning shears can be sharpened and oiled. Bird feeders can be brought into the house and scrubbed with warm soapy water, rinsed, dried and refilled. Seed packets can be organized and checked for viable germination by placing a few seeds in a dampened paper towel to see if they sprout. 

A gardener’s list is often endless. And even when physical chores are in order, plan for what can be added or improved in the garden in the spring. As I write this, visions of a quiet, outdoor-sitting area entertain me. January: a time to do and a time to dream.

Jan 18

Lagunitas Creek Spawner Update: A Glass-Half-Full/Glass-Half-Empty Situation

Posted on January 18, 2017 at 8:38 AM by Ann Vallee

by Eric Ettlinger, Aquatic Ecologist

The current state of affairs in Lagunitas Creek can be described as a glass-half-full/glass-half-empty situation. Or more accurately, a reservoir-full, streambed-empty situation. By the end of December the coho salmon run was on track to be larger than the parent generation of three years ago and continue the generational improvements we’ve seen for each of the last five years. But then came the unrelenting storms of the last two weeks. On the positive side those storms filled MMWD’s reservoirs and produced the high flows that can create and improve salmon habitats in Lagunitas Creek. On the negative side those flows destroyed many coho redds, washed away some of our salmon habitat structures, and severely hampered our survey work. We’ve heard rumors of fresh coho out there (and steelhead should be starting to spawn too), but we haven’t been able to see them ourselves.

stream gauge
The stream gauge in Samuel P. Taylor State Park at 2,500 cubic feet per second

The most recent storm raised Lagunitas Creek flows to 4,300 cubic feet per second, which was the third-highest flow in 35 years. In the coming months we’ll see if this flood had significant impacts on incubating salmon eggs and/or last year’s fry. Previous major floods in 1998 and 2006 resulted in very poor egg survival, and we expect to see relatively few fry again this summer. One-year-old juvenile coho have survived recent large floods successfully, likely by seeking out slow water areas on floodplains. Ironically, it may be moderate storm events that are most deadly, because flows stay confined in the stream channel and slow water habitats may be hard to find. This summer we’ll be enhancing a number of areas on Lagunitas Creek to provide exactly those kinds of slow water habitats. On an optimistic note, the floods this season have risen and receded rapidly, hopefully subjecting coho fry to fast, confined flows only briefly. In late March we’ll start counting the surviving smolts as they migrate to the ocean and, one way or the other, that data will contribute to our understanding of how salmon survive floods and what we can do to help.

Jan 13

In the News

Posted on January 13, 2017 at 2:58 PM by Ann Vallee

by Charlene Burgi

 Misty checks out a nature-made rain garden
Lately not a day goes by without weather warnings notifying me of blasting blizzard conditions, flash flood warnings, ice on the roads and recommendations to stay indoors. The warnings, however, are not exclusive to us here in Lassen County. While watching the Bay Area news this week, I saw highway and road closures throughout Marin, evacuation and flooding in San Anselmo, and Corte Madera Creek rising to flood stage. I even saw videos of people surfing and boogie-boarding down rain-swollen Mill Creek.

These news warnings are a reminder that we need to be extremely careful when landscaping to keep our homes safe. Standing water or flooding can be an indicator of drainage design flaws. Sometimes these flaws do not reveal themselves until we experience what is known as the 100-year-storm scenario. A mild or modest rainfall may have no ill-effects on our property, but then an unusually big storm exposes the problem. An example of this occurs when water can no longer percolate down into the soil before running off. If the runoff exceeds the drain capacity on the property, or if the grading was crowned or sloped toward the house, excess water can end up under the house—or in the house if the home is on a slab. A good drainage design calculates for the worst historical rain conditions to draw water away from the house.

There are steps we can take to correct design flaws and help stormwater "slow down, spread out and soak in." If you live on a hillside, you can create multiple bioswales, such as bark-filled troughs, along the width of the hillside. Stormwater collects and slowly percolates into in each swale before continuing to the one below, thus eliminating the rush of unrestrained water flowing off the hillside. 

dry creek bed
Functional dry creekbed
Trenches designed as functional dry creekbeds can divert water away from the house and into a rain garden—a simple, shallow, pond-like area where the water can safely collect. Landscape your rain garden with plants able to withstand a lot of water in winter and minimal irrigation in the summer. Many iris, Monarda, asters and even the monarch-butterfly-attracting Asclepias are great for sunny rain gardens. Or choose ferns, blue-eyed grasses and Mimulus for shade. For more plant ideas, visit:

If you live in a flood zone, be prepared to evacuate if instructed to do so. In addition, plan ahead by stocking cupboards with extra food and water in case you are told to "shelter in place," lose power or are unable to get to a store. Keep extra warm clothing and shoes in your autos and do not attempt to drive through flood waters.

Be safe and have a great weekend.