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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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Sep 14


Posted on September 14, 2018 at 12:47 PM by Ann Vallee

by Charlene Burgi

The bees are abuzz as I walk through the garden. They are busily gathering the pollens of the multiple types of lavenders. Their intense activity suggests the bees know our warm season is about to end along with the plentiful blooms now provided by this amazing plant.

Bees and butterfly in lavenderLavender is a nostalgic yet still-underrated plant as far as I am concerned. Deer and rabbits typically won’t eat it. Insects do not attack it—in fact, it attracts beneficials. It doesn’t demand much water, but it does demand good drainage, thereby forcing the gardener to pay attention to the soil. There are a multitude of species to choose from, and lavender will fit almost any criteria needed for a garden apart from planting in deep shade. The colors range from various shades and intensities of purples to lavender as well as pink and white. Not only do the flowers come in a range of color, but the foliage varies from green to gray-green to gray and almost white. Additionally, some lavenders will grow as tall as four feet, while others almost hug the ground. 

The fact that lavender comes in many shapes and sizes had me smiling the other day as I walked with friends along the front entrance to the house. They asked how many plants it took up to fill the space of the lavender growing along the walkway. They were horrified to learn it was just one plant, as they had just planted a similar variety in a very narrow spot in their garden. 

Lavender is no exception to the rule to “know before you buy.” We tend to look at tiny plants in the nurseries forgetting these plants will grow. Too often we overplant shrubs and perennials to give the garden a “fuller” look, not realizing the negative effect that look has on the plants. Overplanting will require you to thin plants out completely or constantly prune to maintain some semblance of order and allow sunlight to enter into the foliage for good health. Crowded plants also will compete for the available nutrients in the soil—not to mention water.

But with the right plants in the right places, lavender will reward you handsomely. Books could be written about all the things that can be done with the flowers and by-products of lavender, as well as their healing properties. The flowers make beautiful wreaths and mixed fragrant bouquets. Lavender potpourris and oils delight the senses. Teas, lemonades and other beverages can be infused with their blossoms. A favorite tip I read is to sprinkle lavender flowers under the front doormat prior to company arriving; when the flowers are crushed underfoot they release an aromatic welcome. And sprigs of lavender on windowsills will repulse mosquitoes and flies from wanting to gain entry. What’s not to love about that?

Consider checking out this wonder plant. Just be cognizant of its growth and needs prior to putting it into the ground.
Sep 13

What We’re Doing to Manage Wildfire Risk on Mt. Tam

Posted on September 13, 2018 at 11:25 AM by Ann Vallee

MMWD fire truckMMWD’s Mt. Tamalpais Watershed is the primary source of our drinking water. But our responsibilities on Mt. Tam extend far beyond capturing, storing and delivering water.

As the largest public land manager on the mountain, MMWD has been working for more than 20 years to reduce wildfire risk and help protect our communities. We built and permanently maintain 1,000 acres of fuel breaks, focusing on neighborhoods on the perimeter of the watershed. We’re also working with neighboring property owners to encourage them to maintain 100 feet of defensible space around their homes, including areas that cross the property boundaries into MMWD lands.

Through our Resilient Forests Project, we’re implementing innovative forest management techniques. This includes using light-on-the-land tracked mowers to clear dense underbrush, reducing the accumulated fuel load while also restoring the health of our forests. In 2018 alone, we invested $1 million in contract labor to help manage fuel breaks, forests and invasive weeds on the watershed—equivalent to 20 full-time positions—and we expect to triple that investment over the next five years. In addition, we’re working with PG&E to identify and remove high-risk trees along power lines within watershed lands.

We’ve also invested in firefighting equipment, developed training programs, and conduct regular fire response drills for all our watershed rangers and maintenance staff. We work closely with Marin County Fire and our local fire departments to manage fire risks and respond to emergencies. And we’ve expanded our community outreach for Red Flag and other critical fire weather events through improved signage and social media alerts.

In addition to our work on Mt. Tam, since 1997 we’ve invested more than $100 million in pipeline and other infrastructure improvements though our fire flow program to help ensure our water is there when needed most. All of these efforts wouldn’t be possible without the support of you, our customers. The watershed management fee on your water bill and the fire flow parcel fee on your property tax bill help to fund this important work. Thank you!
Sep 07


Posted on September 7, 2018 at 2:03 PM by Ann Vallee

by Charlene Burgi

September is a month that can provide a bit of respite from garden chores—or add to the demands depending on our passion for keeping our hands in the soil.

This is a time of transition. Cover crops can be planted to add nutrients in preparation for the spring garden. Or, you may opt to push for one more season of planting lettuce, spinach, beets, Swiss chard, garlic, broccoli and other cole crops that tolerate the cooler temperatures that come in the fall and winter. 

September harvest of beets
 September harvest of beets
Harvesting vegetable gardens may end this month, yet it is September that finds late apples on our trees begging to go into pies, into canning for apple sauce, or fresh and crunchy into our lunch boxes. Winter Nelis pears and persimmons require a while longer to ripen, but the red Bartletts are prized right now not only for the beautiful scarlet color they add to the garden as they sweeten, but also for their excellent canning properties.

Our flower gardens are no exception to the autumn dilemma to leave “as is” or to add to for continued color. The fragrance of stock and snapdragons will add a special treat to the forthcoming crisp air. Drifts of bachelor's buttons will dance in the gentle fall breezes or could add some cheer to a well-placed vase in the house. Pansies and sweet alyssum are two low-growers that can fill voids left by dormant plants. And let’s not forget to install fall bulbs in September for spring color.

September is also an odd time for irrigating. Warm temperatures may fool us into to watering more than needed. But the question is just how much water is really needed at this time of year? We tend to forget that plant water requirements are based on evapotranspiration rates, which are diminishing now along with the hours of daylight. On top of that, many plants are getting ready to go into their winter dormancy. 

Have you reduced the amount of time on your controller to account for the reduced water needs of plants, or are you a “set it and forget it” kind of gardener? It is only those who have installed a smart controller who can get away with “set it and forget it” while the controller makes adjustments automatically for them. If you still have a controller that requires you to set the runtime, MMWD’s Weekly Watering Schedule is great tool that can help determine exactly how much water to apply to plants. 

Did I say earlier that September could be a time for a respite in the garden? What was I thinking?