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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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Aug 01

Why Are We Wasting?

Posted on August 1, 2019 at 9:31 AM by Ann Vallee

By Claire Podoll, Sir Francis Drake High School, MMWD 2019 Water Scholar

It was Tuesday evening and I had just gotten home after a long day of school and practice. As I stepped through the door, my stomach tightened as an unmistakable sound reached my ears. Anxiously, I rushed to the kitchen where I found a steady stream of water pouring from the sink and pointlessly slipping down the drain. My hand flew to the knob only to realize the true cause of this waste: the sink was broken. In recent years I have learned to be acutely aware of the value of water, and have been trained by that awareness to do everything I can to reduce waste.

Growing up in Marin County, clean water is often treated as a fundamental right instead of a privilege. In an affluent community, many households are able to pay for as much water as they could possibly use. Massive amounts of water are wasted each day and the results are thought of as inconsequential. This culture of carelessness is convenient and addicting. However, as I have come to understand the incalculable value of water, I have learned to treat this resource like it actually is: scarce, precious and declining.

Rushing down from the peak of Mt. Tam or pouring over rolling hills, rainwater collects into small streams. Slowly the water converges into creeks which fill up reservoirs, ponds and rivers. There are seven reservoirs across Marin County that supply water to the surrounding community; and yet seven reservoirs have never been enough. According to the MMWD website, 25% of Marin County's water is taken from the Russian River in Sonoma County. In a state plagued by chronic drought, water is always running short, a problem amplified by the massive water needs of the agricultural communities across California and the needs of our native ecosystems. Not only does importing water use unnecessarily large amounts of energy and fossil fuels, it also is taking a valuable resource away from other communities and ecosystems who also need it to sustain their life.

When someone in our country turns on their sink, shower, bath or hose, clean and processed water immediately flows. This access is so convenient that many people never understand the energy, chemical, and infrastructure-intensive process used to purify our water. Just to treat water, it takes 5,875 kWh per million gallons, according to the administration from Earth Consultants. Additionally, the Marin Climate Action Plan states that water conveyance and treatment contribute 1.2% of carbon emission in Marin County despite MMWD using Marin Clean Energy. Once all of these additional resources are taken into account, the already valuable resource of water becomes even more precious. When we waste water, we are not only wasting that precious and life-sustaining liquid, but also energy, chemicals and individuals' valuable time. Additionally, once water is used it must be treated again before it can be sent back into the ocean and rivers, adding to the amount of resources wasted when water isn't valued.

In other cultures around the world, water is prized because individuals are connected to the process of attaining it. However, the disconnect that is derived from the convenience of having unlimited clean water leads to destructive habits. People with this kind of access take hour-long showers. They leave the water running while they brush their teeth or for the 30 minutes that they are washing dishes. They leave their faucets partly on and don't bother to notice for hours, while remaining completely oblivious to the error of their ways.

Over time, I have taught my family how to run our household using a minimal amount of water. This has involved changes to our habits, the way we view resources, and the infrastructure in our home. Whenever I wash dishes, I fill two small bins with warm water which I use to clean each and every dish. This results in the sink running for seconds instead of running constantly though the whole process. As appliances in my home have broken or come to a point where they need to be fixed, I have adamantly encouraged my family to replace them with low water use counterparts like low flow toilets and efficient washing machines. Additionally, we are very conscious about how much laundry we do and only run loads that are completely filled with dirty clothes. Making all of these habitual changes has shaped the way that I think about water. I am always appalled when I witness it being wasted, a feeling that forces me into immediate action. At my high school where I run our school's organic garden, I have implemented water saving strategies as well. When it rains we save water in buckets and tanks to be used on dryer days, which prevents us from needing to frequently use a hose. Additionally, I designed a small sink for our garden's raw food kitchen which recycles all of its water back into the garden beds.

If every household in Marin could take simple steps to conserve, our watershed could cut its water use in half. This would save resources and limit the need for us to flood some ecosystems and take water from others. The Mt. Tamalpais watershed provides plenty of water to allow our community's water needs to be self sustaining, we just need as a community to take initiative and learn to value our water.


About Claire

Capture Claire Podoll is a recent graduate of Sir Francis Drake High School living in San Geronimo. Claire will be studying environmental studies and politics at Whitman College. Throughout her time in high school, Claire participated in sports and helped to run her school's environmental club and organic garden. She enjoys spending time outside going on hikes with her friends and family. 

Jul 24

My History with Mt. Tam's Beauty

Posted on July 24, 2019 at 8:08 AM by Ann Vallee

By Andrew Dunne, Tamalpais High School, MMWD 2019 Water Scholar

With a trail to the wildness less than five minutes of walking away from my house, I always had easy access to the beautiful hills of the Tamalpais watershed lands. It's easy to take for granted how lush and diverse the plant life is, the easily accessible trails, and the gorgeous views. I know I certainly didn't appreciate it for a long time. However, after collaborating with various park services and comparing other landscapes to our own here in Marin, it's plain to see that Mount Tamalpais is a sanctuary worth the effort of protecting.

As a young kid in elementary school, the world was large and ready to be explored. Sap found on pine trees was a collectible commodity, spotting deer grazing by the roadside was thrilling, and the hiking trails that wound through the hills seemed to go on forever. There still exist vague memories of taking walks with family along the trails that surround Phoenix Lake: the sunny, exposed stretches with cicadas chirping from mysterious locations in the dried grass, a large section shaded by a smattering of different trees, leafy debris mottling the soil, and the emerald-colored water glinting in the white sun. I was entertained for hours with the wide outdoors, despite being easily bored at home.

In middle school, focus shifted over to mountain biking. Every Wednesday after school, a group of classmates and I biked along the trails of Mt. Tam. The fresh air and well-maintained trails were a blast to ride on, both up and down, and there were great vistas while resting. After a few years I graduated to Tamalpais High School, which hosts a mountain biking team. There were rides twice per week, and the reservoir lakes were frequent destinations. The ability to leave home on a bike and have so many options to ride, all of them so fun and natural, is something people celebrate and build communities around.

However nice the watershed area was, though, I never really understood how much effort went into managing it until the summer after freshman year in high school. The Golden Gate National Parks Conservancy was hosting a program called LINC Tam: an acronym for Linking Individuals to their Natural Community. In this program, 20 or so high schoolers from all around the Tamalpais area learn about the natural environment, do volunteer trail work, and much more. I joined the program, and for six weeks the other students, staff, and I experienced the Tam outdoors.

Nearly every day began with a convention in the MMWD work yard lot, and from there we traveled to many different trails and sites Integral to the upkeep of the land. There was work of all types to be done: trails needed new water bars installed to prevent degradation, invasive French Broom plants needed pulling everywhere, and other physical tasks. After the hard labor was done, we often learned about the intellectual management work that goes into maintaining Tamalpais. One day the LINC group toured a water purification plant, another we sorted through photos taken by wilderness cameras as a part of the Marin Wildlife Picture Index Project, and we also saw a day in the life of a Tam park ranger. Finally, in the last week of the program, there was a four day backpacking trip across Mt. Tamalpais in celebration of one hundred years of the National Park Service. Now knowing the lengths people go to protect the trails I have explored and made memories on, it was clear that I should pay for those good times so others can experience the same.

Over the past few years in high school, I have participated in volunteer work days across the Tamalpais watershed area. New stairs were installed along a trail by Deer Park Road, and invasive plants were pulled all across the region. The surprising thing, though, is that these "work days" didn't feel like work. The scenery was relaxing, the climate was comfortable, and all the other volunteers were enthusiastic and great to talk with. The wholesome, outdoorsy vibe found here in the North Bay just isn't found in many other places. During college tours, I traveled southward bound in California, from Marin all the way to San Diego. For the vast majority of the driving, and at many of the university towns, the landscape was comparatively bland: plains upon plains of dried grass, saturated with man-planted vegetation in the towns. In Pasadena, for example, the landscape was incredibly flat: the horizon was horizontal, save for the San Gabriel Mountains looming in the distance. It lacked the spirit that can only be provided by trickling streams, valleys, moss-cluttered trees, and permeating fog. By viewing the natural environments of other locations in person, I appreciate what we possess here in Marin so much more.


IMG_1133About Andrew
I'm a recent graduate of Tamalpais High School. I first became directly involved with MMWD through the GGNPC's LINC program. It was the summer after freshman year, and it was a great experience, introducing me to many different parks programs of varying levels. Since I've always recreationally enjoyed the Tam watershed areas, I enjoy helping to maintain them through volunteer work.
Jul 18

The Miracle of Clean Water

Posted on July 18, 2019 at 10:04 AM by Ann Vallee

By Caterin Duarte Reynosa, San Rafael High School, MMWD 2019 Water Scholar

For the first ten years, I lived in a poor community where clean water was a luxury only rich people could afford. In Guatemala as a whole country, most people don't have access to clean water. Most of my neighbors and friends would get their water supply from the river at the edge of the town. The same river in which many of my neighbors would shower, wash their clothes, and fished. As someone who grew up with the indigenous people of Guatemala, I was taught to always protect our water. Guatemala is a country with many rivers and lakes. As the consumption of waste started increasing, the pollution of our water rose as well. Whenever we traveled to different parts of Guatemala, I noticed that the rivers were filled with trash. In response, kids tried to clean the water, by picking up the plastic that was near the shore at least once a week, but the waters still remain dirty. My family was lucky because we didn't have to struggle quite as much to access clean water. We used to get it from a well that belonged to my great-grandparents. I could imagine that the well had many dead insects in it and other debris, but to us, that was cleaner than a public river that collects contaminated runoff, and we had access to it whenever we wanted water. When I was around eight years old, my parents, who by then were overseas, chose to invest in clean water by sending us money to Guatemala to buy a big water tank which we would replenish with potable water every two months. The big tank was located outside of our house in our backyard. The tank changed my life forever. I was so used to going to a bathroom, portable style, where flushing wasn't an option, and used to drinking water from an old well. With the new tank, we were able to build a modem sink, and we were able to buy washing and drying machines. I was able to shower every day of the weeks, unlike my friends who could only shower three times a week. We were the only family in the town who had this privilege, so we tried to help out our neighbors by donating any leftover water we had. When I was around ten years old, I migrated to America, specifically Marin County, to reunite with my parents. Seeing how easy and accessible clean water was to people was a huge cultural shock for me. I was used to seeing people carry buckets of water to their homes, whereas here people had water at the turn of a faucet in every comer of the house. Ready access to real clean water has inspired me to value it more. As one who was taught to always preserve water, even dirty water, because it was expensive, I find it extremely important to conserve and protect the clean water we often take for granted, even in the face of drought. I am keenly aware that not everyone has the privilege of claiming access to it as we do in San Rafael. To my community, clean water is a blessing. Most of the people who live in the Canal district of San Rafael, California, where I reside, know firsthand that clean water is critically important to us because of our migration background. Indeed, in their home countries, drinking dirty water leads to many illnesses; here in Marin County, far from both Guatemala or, for that matter, Flint, Michigan, I seldom need to worry about contamination. I find neither dead animals nor trash when I open the tap. In other parts of this country, like in Flint, Michigan, clean water is not an option and people are forced to buy water bottles to survive. Clean water is a powerful resource that needs to be appreciated more pointedly than it usually is. Most people here take clean water for granted because they don't know how people from other parts of the world struggle for it. They don't know what it's like to live in a country where water, socially clean water, is limited. We are lucky to live in Marin County, a place know for its clean water. Making an effort to save water and to reduce the amount of water we use every day will ensure that we always have clean water. As a community, we should all respect and protect our water resources if we want them to be part of our lives in the future.


CaterinAbout Caterin
My name Caterin Duarte and I’m a student at San Rafael High School. I’m a first generation student looking forward to explore my passion as well as my education in college.