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'Charlene Burgi'

Jan 13

In the News

Posted to MMWD Blog: Think Blue Marin 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.
Jan 06

By the Numbers

Posted to MMWD Blog: Think Blue Marin on January 6, 2017 at 1:44 PM by Ann Vallee

by Charlene Burgi

Let's face it: It is cold outside, and my idea of the perfect way to pass the time is to sit in front of a roaring fireplace with a warm beverage and good book instead of facing the biting chill. My vacation time in Bend, Oregon, with my son and grandchildren found me doing just that. The roads were covered in ice and several feet of snow. Despite the weather, the brave-souled kids still managed a trek up to Mt. Bachelor for snowboarding. Meanwhile, good books and baking held this grandmother inside the warm house.

One of the books I read told the history of Nevada miners working in a very remote and arid environment. The conditions were so tough that they could collect no more than 53 gallons of water per family per week. At first my eyes skimmed over these figures, until it dawned on me that this was not per person per day, but per family per week. The book said they did without bathing and irrigation. I could only imagine it would take more than just eliminating those two items!

Reading this account was a reminder of how fortunate we are to have safe, reliable water delivered to our taps 24/7. It also was a reminder about not taking this precious resource for granted. When rain is falling from the sky and our reservoirs are full, conservation may be far from mind. But wet or dry, conservation should be a way of life. I am certain everyone’s irrigation system is turned off now, but where else can we look for water savings?

A 2016 U.S. study found that the biggest indoor water use is toilet flushing, which consumes an average of 33.1 gallons per household per day (gphd). This is followed by showers (28.1 gphd), faucets (26.3 gphd), clothes washing (22.7 gphd) and leaks (17.0 gphd). To get the biggest bang for your buck, start by replacing older showerheads with new high-efficiency models and adding aerators to your faucets. Both are available for free from our office at 220 Nellen Avenue in Corte Madera. To help with replacing the more expensive items, MMWD offers rebates for high-efficiency toilets and clothes washers, as well as many other products. 

And while picking up your showerhead and aerator at MMWD, don’t forget to pick up free dye tablets to test your toilets for leaks, as toilet leaks can account for thousands of gallons of lost water per month. Wouldn’t those old miners have made good use of that amount of water!
Dec 16

Much Ado

Posted to MMWD Blog: Think Blue Marin on December 16, 2016 at 10:50 AM by Ann Vallee

by Charlene Burgi

December tends to be the month of misconceptions and frustrations regarding how to care for all the decorative plants coming into the house. Some of the stories overheard are surprising, while others can only make you laugh.

One humorous story came to light a few weeks ago when the subject came up regarding the hydration of cut Christmas trees. A friend shared that when her son was much younger, he was told by someone of "great knowledge" to pour antifreeze into the container used for watering their Christmas tree. It was his intent to surprise his parents with his newfound wisdom. The next day as the family entered the living room to view their newly decorated tree, they found no needles attached to the branches. The needles lay scattered around the base of the tree, leaving the limbs looking much like persimmon trees at the moment—the ornaments like persimmon fruit clinging to bare branches!

Apparently, people experiment with all types of additives in their Christmas tree water. Friends have called asking about ants invading the house after adding sugar to the water. Others have questions regarding complicated recipes containing chili powder, molasses, vermouth and anything else found in their cupboards. The truth is that a cut tree will take up water as long as the xylem (tiny tubes within the trunk) are kept open and do not sap over. In due time, bacteria will form and clog those tiny tubes that draw water up through the tree. In short, give your tree a fresh cut before placing it in the water stand, then supply fresh water—that is all that is needed. Keep the tree away from all heat sources and understand that cut trees are meant to last only two to three weeks before potentially drying out.

Poinsettia yellow flower buds
 Poinsettia yellow flower buds
Poinsettias are another plant that tends to get a bad rap during the holiday season. Oft times they are purchased past their prime. People tend to focus on the beauty of their bracts, not the tiny yellow flowers that should be held tight for longevity. These flowers can be found in the center of the bracts. The stores often add decorative foil to the containers of these colorful plants. Yet while poinsettias need water, they do not like to have their roots exposed to wet conditions. It is common to see these beautiful plants wilt and drop their bracts prematurely due to overwatering. The fix for this problem is easy. If you like the foil, poke holes in the bottom of it and place the plant in a saucer to allow excess water to be removed after the plant has been watered. Keep the plant in a well lit location and enjoy its beauty.

Many plants we bring into the house during this season are considered poisonous. Mistletoe, holly, narcissus, lilies and amaryllis all have varying degrees of toxicity if ingested. Be wise in exploring these plants before decorating your home, and note the behavior of those children or pets who will have access to the plants. For example, my two kittens have never taken a nip at houseplants, but they love to climb trees. Knowing this, I opted for a table-top tree to avoid potential catastrophe! If you are in a quandary, opt for silk flowers that can mimic the beauty of live plants to avoid a recipe for disaster.