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Marin IJ Articles

As summer arrives, it’s time to think about conserving water

  • Jane Scurich
  • At we start irrigating our gardens, it’s important to carefully check existing sprays and drip lines. Turn each station on in the manual mode and observe. Often debris can enter the lines and obstruct the water flow, so get down on your hands and knees and inspect each emitter or opening in a dripline. Missing emitters can create a geyser, so watch as each of your stations run. Check for sprayers that are blocked by plants. You may be able to prune a few branches to allow the water to flow more effectively.

    Reevaluate water needs for all of your irrigated areas. Some of last year’s young perennials may now be mature and require less moisture. Review your programmable timers. Don’t forget to replace the backup battery to ensure the system continues to function in the event of a power outage. Once all of your irrigation systems are in good working order, write a note to self to check the irrigation system once a month.

    Now, take some time to access your overall irrigation strategy. Is it possible to relocate some of your plants so that those with similar cultural needs are clustered together to simplify irrigation? Are you using the most efficient irrigation to avoid overspray on areas like driveways and pathways? Have you considered eliminating or at least decreasing the size of your lawn? Are you aware of the Marin Municipal Water District’s weekly watering schedule? Have you researched recommended times and frequency for your irrigation system?

    There is a fabulous resource to help you answer many of these questions: marinwater.org/136/Conservation. You are just clicks away from a survey tool to help you develop a custom watering plan, sign up for a weekly watering schedule, learn about some valuable free tools, available rebates, and more.

    Some easily accomplished recommendations include:

    • Water before 6 a.m. or after 8 p.m. Midday watering may reduce water efficiency up to 30 percent because of evaporation and wind.

    • Reduce irrigation time by two minutes or eliminate one irrigation cycle per week. Experiment with lowering overall irrigation time. Look for signs of wilting or plant stress. Quite possibly, plants will adjust and thrive with slightly less moisture.

    • Add 2 to 3 inches of mulch around trees and plants. Organic mulches help to retain moisture and improve water absorption.

    If you’re planning some future design changes in your landscape, consider incorporating permeable materials. By moving away from solid hardscaping such as asphalt or concrete, and introducing permeable pavers, smooth stones and rocks or the newer porous cement or asphalt concrete, water will be allowed to absorb into the soil rather than rushing down streets and storm drains, collecting debris and pollutants on its way to the ocean.

    Consider creating a garden space or dry creek bed where winter rain can gather, slowly percolate into the soil, and help to replace groundwater levels that were greatly challenged during the long drought. Investigate your downspouts. Can water be redirected into the landscape rather than into the storm drains?

    Take a field trip to the Falkirk demonstration gardens at 1408 Mission Ave. in San Rafael. Informational signage regarding plant choice and irrigation needs will help formulate decisions for your home garden.

    Both the MMG and MMWD websites offer detailed DIY tips to help us all save our precious water and waterways — and our wallets. But if these self-help tools aren’t working, don’t hesitate to reach out to an irrigation specialist to ensure you are doing the best you can to use water wisely.