How to Save Water and Money in Your Yard

 by Morgan Cantrell

Wouldn’t you like to worry less about droughts, spend less on infrastructure, and have more water in lakes and creeks for us and wildlife to enjoy? More than two-thirds of California’s outdoor urban water use is residential, and we use as much water outdoors as indoors, so your yard is a great place to save.

Start with these ideas:

Landscape with native plants After it is well established, a garden of local natives will thrive without any additional water, fertilizer or pesticides, and attract beautiful butterflies and birds. Start with one section of your yard and use your favorite plants seen on local hikes as inspiration. Some of my favorites are California fuchsia, lupine, sticky monkeyflower, soap root, mariposa lily, poppy, madrone, huckleberry, and Pacific wax myrtle. Converting your lawn and garden will reduce your outdoor water use 30–70%.

For the best selection, visit The Watershed Nursery in Point Richmond, O’Donnell’s Fairfax Nursery, and CNL Native Plant Nursery in Mill Valley.

A native plant garden, like this one at the Mill Valley Library, looks great, attracts wildlife and dramatically reduces water use. Photo by Laura Lovett

Convert or evolve your lawn It’s comfy to walk on, your dogs and kids like it, it’s entertaining to mow…but it takes so much water to keep it green and it’s no longer admirable to have one! Replace some or all of your traditional lawn with a low-water garden, alternative grass, or a permeable patio of decomposed granite, gravel or pavers. Marin Water (aka Marin Municipal Water District or MMWD) will do most of the planning work for you and then pay you once you’ve replaced it. When it comes to alternative grasses, consider natives that develop deep roots and resemble meadows rather than a traditional English garden. American Soil in San Rafael has a good selection of gravel and granite that allow rain to soak through. The important things are to create spaces you love, absorb rainwater, and use less water from our reservoirs.

Reuse water from your laundry Even an efficient washing machine uses about 14 gallons per load. There is a variety of ways to reroute that water to your landscape so it doesn’t go into the sewer system. Use biodegradable detergent and make sure you have the option to divert the water to your sewer if you’re washing a load that includes things like diapers or medical scrubs. This can be an efficient way to save money and water. Marin Water has partnered with the Urban Farmer Store to offer a $100 discount on your purchase of a laundry-to-landscape graywater kit and has information and seminars available on their website.

Implement a timed drip irrigation system The best and easiest way to water is with an automated drip system that adjusts itself based on the weather. Water in early morning to avoid root rot and unnecessary evaporation. (You can be fined $250 for watering after 9 a.m.) Adding a layer of mulch helps retain moisture, as will watering at the soil level instead of spraying water on leaves. Use of drip irrigation is currently limited, and Marin Water has a rebate program that offers up to $100 back on WaterSense irrigation controllers.

Droughts are becoming more common, and we need to adapt to keep our watershed healthy. Marin Water has set a goal of reducing water use by 40% this year and our yards are great places to start.

Pipevine Swallowtails in the Garden

by Maureen Groper

When I moved to San Anselmo in 1985, the large shady swale that ran through the middle of my property was covered with ivy. It harbored rats and was often a haven for yellow-jacket nests. After several years I succeeded in clearing the

swale of this invasive plant. On the advice of Friends of Corte Madera Creek, I replanted only with natives. Those included western sword fern, white-root sedge, salmonberry, and even a pipevine, recommended to me by naturalist Charles Kennard. He believed I would appreciate the latter’s interesting flower.

Fortunately, most of the plants have flourished. The pipevine is growing vigorously—not unlike the dreaded ivy, covering the ground and climbing up anything in its path. I have never seen the flower, but I was treated to a much more exciting development.

One June, I found a most unique caterpillar walking across a path in my garden. I consulted my copy of Common Butterflies of California by the legendary Bob Stewart. Not only did I find a picture of the caterpillar but a photograph of the pipevine swallowtail butterfly into which it would develop. The butterfly is black with a bluish-green metallic color on the hind wings. The female has a row of yellowish-white dots; the male does not. When a pipevine swallowtail is at rest, it folds its wings and you can see a curved row of bright orange dots on the underside. Its body is dark with white spots. It is quite spectacular. I have been fortunate to see them occasionally in my garden.

Then, in March 2014, I was truly rewarded for planting the pipevine. I saw a swallowtail butterfly fluttering around one of the vines. It hovered and hovered for 15–20 minutes. I couldn’t believe the stamina of this fragile creature. Finally, it alighted on a stem. I was able to go right up to it within inches to take pictures. At last, I realized it was laying eggs. Like many butterflies, pipevines only lay their eggs on the host plants that will nourish their larvae when they hatch; this vine is their only host plant.

When it eventually finished and fluttered off, there was a row of little round brownish eggs about the size of a mustard seed. Over the next week or so I kept an eye on the eggs as the leading shoot of the vine inched its way up the tree. When they hatched, I could see 10–12 tiny caterpillars with all their markings munching away. Unfortunately, at this point I went away for a week.

Upon my return there were just four left. For some unknown reason these four never moved on and slowly died. I am hoping the others traveled to another area to continue their munching, then each would form a chrysalis and finally emerge as a lovely pipevine swallowtail. It was disappointing not to see the full cycle during that year, but the pipevine is still in the yard. I hope I will be in the right place at the right time to witness this amazing process again

Protecting Rare Frogs in Fairfax

by Sandy Guldman

Marin County has two populations of the foothill yellow-legged frog, a species listed as endangered by the state. One is found in Little Carson and Big Carson creeks on Marin Water land; the second, in San Anselmo and Cascade creeks in the Cascade Open Space Preserve (OSP) managed by Marin County Parks.

One of the biggest threats to these frogs is instream habitat disturbance. The Marin Water habitat is more remote and less likely to be disturbed, although a roster of volunteer docents protects the frogs at Little Carson Falls.

In contrast, the Cascade OSP is a popular recreational area and the main trail through the OSP crosses the creek four times! Each crossing poses a threat to the frog population, as egg masses and frogs are easily crushed.

The Cascade Trail Bridges project would replace these four fords with two 6-foot-wide trail bridges, protecting the aquatic habitat required for frog breeding, tadpole development, and adult survival. Why aren’t all local environmentalists actively supporting this project, which provides major environmental benefits? What are the arguments against the trail bridges?

The first argument is that the trail bridges would lead to increased visitation to the OSP, damaging in and of itself. However, no evidence has been provided to support the assertion that more people would use it. Large numbers of people visit the OSP, attracted by the creek, the waterfall, and the inkwells. Use of all open spaces and parks has increased during the pandemic, making it even more important to keep users out of sensitive habitat. Access for hikers is greatly restricted by the limited available parking on Cascade Drive.

When the creek is flowing, hikers currently use the High Water Trail. If the bridges are built, the High Water Trail would be decommissioned. The trail bridges would not provide more access, just replace an erosive, unstable trail or wet creek crossings with environmentally friendly trail bridges. Bridge opponents also think that more mountain bikers would use the OSP. Although the mountain biking community is in favor of the bridges, it does not see the project as improving access connection; bikers already use the fords when traveling to or from Pine Mountain. Biking through a wet crossing is not a major deterrent, but many cyclists commented that they would like to see better protection for sensitive aquatic habitat and would rather use trail bridges instead of riding through the creek.

Second, opponents cite potential impacts to dusky-footed wood rats and northern spotted owls. Surveys conducted by Parks’ biologists found abundant wood rat nests, but none that would be disturbed by the proposed trail bridges. Similarly, northern spotted owl nests are located a safe distance from construction areas. Furthermore, immediately before construction could begin, additional surveys would be conducted to document that new nests near construction areas have not been built.

Please support protecting the Corte Madera Creek watershed’s only yellow-legged frog population, along with other important aquatic resources like steelhead/rainbow trout also found in the Cascade Canyon OSP, and let the Fairfax Town Council and Marin County Board of Supervisors hear your voice.

The People’s Park in the Ross Valley

by Ann Thomas

If citizen action ever created a park, it was in 1973 when neighbors in Kentfield Gardens rallied to stop development in a little noticed and degraded saltwater marsh along Bon Air Road that would find new life as Hal Brown Park at Creekside. The area had already been mostly filled with dredged materials.

Rumors about development in the former marsh across Bon Air Road from the hospital came to a head at a community meeting in November 1972, at which a developer described plans to build up to 320 condominiums on the property. It would be a densely packed complex of units to be sold for about $60,000 each, a princely sum at the time. The project would have required an estimated 200,000 cubic yards of fill to elevate the site and build a possible road extension from Wolfe Grade through what is now the Bacich School parking lot, to access the development and Bon Air Road.

“His announcement came like a bomb shell,” Berens Drive resident Ruth Solomon wrote to a friend after the meeting. She described how residents had reacted to the plan, that “for most of them their memory of the area was that of a pleasant marsh with all kinds of birds, migrating and otherwise…there would be great bitterness about the destruction of a beautiful environment.”

The property, owned by the Roman Catholic Welfare Corporation of San Francisco, was once part of a large saltwater marsh extending from Corte Madera Creek to Sir Francis Drake Blvd. A 1955 bond issue generated funds to build Bacich, then called Wolfe Grade School, on raised fill on a portion of the former marsh. The Army Corps of Engineers in the late 1960s used the area along Bon Air Road to dump dredge spoils from the Corte Madera Creek channel, removing nearly all of its habitat.

Despite the site’s neglected and sad appearance, neighbors were alarmed about the threat of losing the once thriving marsh and wildlife haven. This fear was heightened by concerns that the development would also exacerbate flooding which routinely impacted area properties during heavy rains and high tides, as well as the prospect of losing a fondly regarded educational resource. “The marsh area,” Mrs. Solomon wrote, “has been used by the students of Wolfe Grade School, Kent School and the College of Marin as a part of the study of the ecology of the area, as an example of both a healthy marsh and a disturbed one.”

The Committee for a Creekside Park was quickly formed to oppose the proposal for housing. Meetings with the developer were unsuccessful, and they were unable to dent the County’s approval of the project. Undeterred, they pooled their professional expertise to form County Service Area (CSA) 17, a special district option permitted under California state law to enable small areas to provide limited special services.

CSA 17 was established in August 1973 as a funding mechanism to raise funds to purchase the Bon Air marsh property. The special district encompasses neighborhoods surrounding the park and marsh, in all about 2,470 acres comprising a small portion of Larkspur as well as areas in unincorporated Kentfield.

To assess community support for their ambition, the Committee for a Creekside Park surveyed neighbors door-to-door. The survey asked residents if they knew that the Marin County Planning Commission had approved a 260-unit condominium development on the property, if they would prefer recreational and ecological use of the land, and if they would support this with a tax of up to one dollar per month to purchase the property. The response was overwhelming: 93% favored a park, 78%

agreed to pay for it. Subsequently, two measures were placed on the November 1973 ballot for voters of CSA 17: an $850,000 bond issue for acquisition and development of the proposed park, and a maintenance tax for the park’s ongoing upkeep. To build support, the Committee secured a conceptual plan from local residents Lawrence Halprin and Harold and Becky Watkins, envisioning a revitalized salt marsh, upland native vegetation, and a playground. It was shared with residents at meetings prior to the election.

Both measures were passed by more than 90% of votes in the district election, and the dream was taking shape. After lengthy negotiations the property owners agreed to sell the site to the community rather than the developer, property title was transferred to the County, and the County partnered with the neighborhood committee to create the park.

The landscape firm of Royston, Hanamoto, Beck & Abey was selected to create a site master plan, which still remains the basis for the park’s layout. Dredge spoils, which had destroyed part of the marsh, were moved, and restoration was delayed for two years for winter rains to leach out the salts that had come from the creek. The plan’s summary proposed restoration of 16 acres in their existing state, ten acres to be restored to marsh. The marsh was planned as “a well-formed natural expanse of groundcover composed of a rich variety of marsh plants interlaced with waterways, with a large island as sanctuary for birds and animals.” The park was to be developed on the six-acre landfill across from the hospital grounds. Firm planners observed numerous birds and other wildlife on the property, providing a list of 67 birds, 15 mammals, and 13 reptiles and amphibians that they anticipated “could possibly be observed after completion of the park.”

There were a number of set-backs. In 1976, development of the park was stalled by the 1975/76 drought and the community even attempted to find water by drilling a well; it was not a success. Finally, in 1979, with help from some State Parks funding, irrigation was installed, turf planted, and the play structures, picnic area, and a path to Bacich School was finally accomplished. Barbara Boxer, then serving as the district’s County Supervisor, wrote to her colleagues: “The successful reestablishment of a salt marsh in an area previously inundated with dredging spoils reflects the basic philosophy of the neighborhood…willing to pay for unique park and environmental improvements out of their own pockets and make these areas readily available to all of the people in the county.”

The park was renamed in 2010 as Hal Brown Park at Creekside, after the popular County Supervisor who had helped spearhead funding for a $1.6 million renovation, completed in 2011. That renovation included a large modern playground with a climbing wall, sand and play areas, and swings, an expanded picnic area, habitat restoration, realigned pathways, a health and meditation grove, and a marsh overlook. A project is currently underway to replace an aging pedestrian/bicycle bridge and pathway connecting the frontage path along Bon Air Road and the creek’s multiuse path. The existing path is underwater at high tides and interferes with proper drainage of nearby areas.

Marin County Parks, with CSA 17 funding, continues to maintain the park as well as the multiuse pathway along the creek. The Kentfield Planning Advisory Board, comprised of volunteers appointed by the Board of Supervisors, serves as the community advisory board for the CSA.

Marin County Parks has a longstanding partnership with Friends of Corte Madera Creek Watershed and they have partnered on a number of projects at the park over the years. These have included:

Southeastern Creekside Marsh Culvert Replacement and Habitat Enhancement, that replaced the older failing culvert with three larger culverts to increase tidal circulation in the marsh;

Upland Habitat Enhancement, removal of invasive plants and their replacement by native plants;

Ongoing workdays;

The removal of old construction fill and dredge spoils, and their replacement by soil suitable for a marsh, and the planting of native vegetation such as pickleweed and saltgrass.

For more than sixteen years, Friends has worked with the California Coastal Conservancy’s bay-wide Invasive Spartina Project which seeks to entirely rid the Bay of invasive cordgrasses. Two of the invasive cordgrasses were introduced, probably accidentally, when the marsh was restored at Hal Brown Park at Creekside. It became one of the major infestations of these aggressive invader plants which crowd out native vegetation and exacerbate flooding in adjacent land areas. This project will hopefully be completed in the near future.