Entries tagged with “Nicasio Reservoir”.


With a series of deluges falling on the coast Monday and Tuesday, total rainfall for November topped 16 inches, according to Marin Municipal Water District readings at its reservoirs.

Nicasio Reservoir is full, and Seeger Dam is overflowing into its spillway. I shot this photo at 4:30 p.m. Tuesday.

All fall, the caked-mud bottom of Nicasio Reservoir could be seen in many places, making it a symbol of the drought around here. By late Monday, however, the reservoir had begun to overflow.

In West Marin where we don’t depend on Central Valley aquifers or the snowpack in the Sierra  for water, the drought is over. As long as there’s rain falling on your head, you can water your lawn without feeling guilty. Just don’t try it in other parts of the state where, according to NASA, the drought may last a couple more years.

Nowhere is the effect of the ongoing drought more dramatic than at Nicasio Reservoir, which is currently only half full. According to Marin Municipal Water District (MMWD) which owns the reservoir, West Marin is in its ninth drought since 1975. At least as measured on Mount Tamalpais.

MMWD, however, is not yet hurting for water. Its seven reservoirs together are still 92 percent full thanks to late-spring rains.

Nicasio Reservoir is so low because the district is steadily drawing on it to supply the San Geronimo Valley treatment plant while leaving as much water as possible in its other reservoirs, which are slower to fill. These include Lagunitas, Phoenix, Alpine, Bon Tempe, Kent, and Soulajule.

Today’s Nicasio Valley Road can be seen to the left of the low-lying old Nicasio Valley Road. This photo of Nicasio Reservoir was taken in 2009 when the water level was also dropping.

Nicasio Reservoir was created by the erection of Seeger Dam in 1961. The new reservoir flooded a number of longtime ranches and inundated the north end of Nicasio Valley Road, which had to be relocated to higher ground (as seen at left).

When the water level dropped this year, thousands of freshwater clams were left stranded and easy prey for various creatures.

Among the creatures currently scavenging on the reservoir’s increasingly exposed bottom are daily flocks of Canada geese.

The old Nicasio Valley Road and its bridge often remain submerged for several years at a time. These days they are high and dry, far from the water’s edge.

Even the centerline on the usually flooded old road is visible in many places now that the water level has dropped.

January, 2010

Creation of the reservoir in 1961 also necessitated relocating a large section of the Point Reyes-Petaluma Road, a project that cost more than acquiring land and building a dam.

A relic of a mishap that occurred during the construction of today’s roadway can still be found half-hidden in fennel and Andean grass on the south side of the Point Reyes-Petaluma Road between Platform Bridge and Seeger Dam.

It’s easy to overlook this rusted steel bar sticking out of a basalt roadcut about 50 yards downhill from Laurel Canyon Road, but according to oldtimers there is a curious history behind it.

As part of blasting through the rock 55 years ago, the road builders one day were drilling a hole for some explosives when their drill shaft broke. Removing it would have required considerable work, so they merely cut off the top and left the bent shaft sticking up beside the road where it can still be seen.

I first heard this account from an oldtimer I knew decades ago, and today I asked Pete Maendle of Inverness Park if it was accurate. Pete is the senior road maintenance supervisor in West Marin for the country Department of Public Works, and he said he had heard the same thing from oldtimers in his department.

So see if you can spot the broken drill shaft the next time you drive slowly by. It’s easy to miss because of all the vegetation around it, but it’s a relic of an historical mishap.

Before Kent Reservoir was created in 1953-54, Lagunitas Creek was broad “like the Russian River” as it flowed past his present home, Tocaloma resident Pat Martin, 67, told me this week.

“It was all natural flow,” he said. During the 1940s and early 1950s, runs of coho salmon passing through Tocaloma were “incredible,” Martin remarked. No one disputes this. “Thousands” of coho salmon used to migrate up the creek annually, naturalists have likewise reported. In the years since then, however, the number of local coho dropped so precipitously the species is now listed as endangered.

A coho salmon swims upstream through shallow water on its way to spawn. (Bay Nature photo)

The fry of coho salmon are born in freshwater creeks. After a year or two, the salmon in their smolt stage swim downstream to the ocean where as adults they live for one to three years. Then guided by the smell of water from the creeks where they were born, the adult salmon head back upstream to their birthplaces to spawn and die.

Pat Martin  lives on Platform Bridge Road at a ranch that once belonged to his late stepfather, Louis Zanardi. Although some people blame the development of homes and dairy ranches in West Marin for at one time putting coho salmon on the verge of extinction, Martin says baloney. From what he has seen, the damage was almost entirely the result of building Peters Dam and then Seeger Dam.

In 1953-54, Marin Municipal Water District (MMWD) created Kent Reservoir by erecting Peters Dam on Lagunitas Creek. The district didn’t release water from the reservoir in the summer, Martin said, and once that began, “I could step across the creek.”

Unable to get up Lagunitas Creek to spawn until heavy rains each year, fish would get stuck in pools around Point Reyes Station’s Coast Guard housing complex. There many of them would fall prey to seals, as well as river otters and lamprey eels, Martin added, and “kids in town would snag them.”

Years ago the late game warden Al Giddings of Woodacre likewise told me about the snagging, which involves dragging a fishing line with no bait on the hook against fish in shallow water. It’s illegal in California.

In addition, without enough water in Lagunitas Creek to migrate up it for months at a time, the salmon — which by then had been living in saltwater for a year or more — sometimes developed “fin rot” from remaining too long in freshwater pools, Martin remembered.

Platform Bridge is just downstream from Nicasio Reservoir’s Seeger Dam, and earlier this month, an artist painted pictures of migrating salmon on the bridge railing. Seeger Dam, which MMWD built 53 years ago, has eliminated salmon runs in Nicasio Creek, a tributary of Lagunitas Creek.

As part of building Peters Dam, logs were left in creek channels. In addition, the Park Service planted willows along the banks of Lagunitas Creek downstream from Jewell. All this has provided shade for fry but can also create pools that lock in fish, making them easy prey for raccoons, Martin said.

For months each year following the construction of Peters Dam 60 years ago, there wasn’t enough water in the creek to sustain much wildlife other than crawfish and bullhead catfish, he said. Brine shrimp, which had been a major part of the frys’ diet, largely disappeared, and mayfly larvae became a primary source of food.

Lagunitas Creek. Its main tributaries include Larsen Creek, Devils Gulch Creek, San Geronimo Creek, and — downstream from Tocaloma — Nicasio Creek. (Marin Municipal Water District photo)

But all is not lost. For the past five years, coho salmon had been making a comeback in Lagunitas Creek. Even some chinook salmon have been showing up. River otters have followed the fish as far upstream as Tocaloma. “There never was an otter in this [stretch of] creek when I was growing up,” Martin noted.

What’s making the difference? To get a permit for raising the height of Peters Dam in 1982, MMWD was temporarily ordered to release enough water from it year round to meet the needs of fish in Lagunitas Creek. That order became permanent in 1995.

Before 1982, there were fears that Lagunitas Creek was on the verge of losing all its coho. However, as MMWD’s fishery program manager Greg Andrew reported in June, last winter the coho spawning run “approached our long-term average of about 500 adults.”

A century ago, tourists from San Francisco often took the narrow-gauge train from Sausalito to Tocaloma to fish where salmon were abundant. Here a fisherman casts his line into Lagunitas Creek just downhill from the majestic Bertrand House hotel. (Copied from historic photo in the Olema Farmhouse restaurant.)

By 1889, Tocaloma “had one of the finest hotels in Marin County, the Bertrand House,” the late historian Jack Mason wrote in Point Reyes the Solemn Land. “When fire razed this establishment in 1917, it was replaced by Caesar Ronchi’s tavern.”

Mason added that “Caesar was a portly Italian tenor whose connection with the world of grand opera was as nebulous as his reputed alliance with San Francisco’s prohibition gangland.”

The late Don McIsaac, who lived across the creek from the tavern, once told me Caesar, who had somehow gotten in trouble with other bootleggers, had to leave San Francisco for his own safety. McIsaac recalled hearing Caesar’s operatic voice periodically reverberating through the canyon.

With salmon numbers improving now that MMWD is releasing enough water into Lagunitas Creek, everything had been looking good, Martin remarked. And along with the increased flows from Peters Dam, some small dams at the Inkwells and upstream have been removed.

And then came this year’s drought. At the moment, Marin County is on its way to experiencing its driest year on record, and this is taking a toll on coho in Lagunitas Creek.

Adult salmon swimming up Lagunitas Creek often use the little “side creeks” along the way for spawning grounds, and at the moment, many of these side creeks are dry. Female salmon create hollows in the gravel creekbed called redds, which is where spawning occurs and eggs are buried. Counts of redds in Lagunitas Creek and its tributaries this year have found far fewer than had been found for several years.

Some naturalists are again worrying the salmon may still be in an “extinction vortex,” to use their obscure jargon.

Martin is more straightforward. The coho salmon population, he said with a frown, is “still not stable.”

When I was a student at Stanford, I once received an ominous message in the mail. Scrawled on the back of an otherwise blank postcard were the words: “THE FALL IS IN FOR YOU.”

What was the threat all about? I had no idea. Ten minutes went by before I remembered trying to buy a copy of Albert Camus’ novel The Fall at Kepler’s Books more than a month earlier. The bookstore had been sold out but offered to order a copy for me. Apparently it had finally come in.

Fall colors along the driveway to Heidrun Meadery in Point Reyes Station Sunday.

Fall is a gaily colored but bittersweet season. Its foliage is beautiful, but it also heralds the coming of winter. Perhaps because of this dichotomy, Fall has always had particular significance for me.

The first poem I ever wrote concerned Fall. My second-grade teacher assigned our class to write a poem about Autumn, and I came up with: “Autumn is the same as Fall. Autumn should not come at all, for when it’s Fall it is a rule all of us go back to school.” No doubt the teacher was offended.

Cows graze on the Dolcini Ranch at Four Corners north of Nicasio Square Sunday.

West Marin in Fall may not be able to match the colors in New England, but it nonetheless has its own share of spectacular countryside.

Canada geese on Nicasio Reservoir across Nicasio Valley Road from the Dolcini Ranch.

Marin Municipal Water District in 1961 erected Seeger Dam on Nicasio Creek, creating Nicasio Reservoir. The reservoir inundated part of the old Nicasio Valley Road, including this bridge, so a new alignment was built to the east.

MMWD’s seven reservoirs collectively are currently at 64 percent of capacity compared to 75 percent at this date last year. Sixty-six percent is average. Nicasio Reservoir looks especially low now that the old bridge has reemerged.

Even the centerline of the old Nicasio Valley Road is now visible on the reservoir’s bottom.

A stand of colorful trees between the reservoir and the Nicasio School campus.

A short distance further south lies Nicasio Vally Farms’ Pumpkin Patch, seen here on Monday. Every harvest season, especially on Saturdays and Sundays, hundreds of families pick through the crop looking for squash to carve into jack-o’-lanterns.

Horses just south of Nicasio Square seem quite blasé about the splendor at their stable.

A tree in the redwoods still further south catches a ray of sunlight while vines of poison oak frame the scene in red.

Fog begins to roll in off the ocean Sunday as the afternoon turns to dusk at Nicasio Reservoir.

A gaggle of geese take flight, probably to flap over Mitchell cabin on their evening commute to Point Reyes.

Because of Fall’s significance for me, this year as always I assembled a cornucopia in Mitchell cabin. It’s a symbol of the bounty of the harvest, and may you too be blessed with the horn of plenty this harvest season.

Water sheets down Seeger Dam as Nicasio Reservoir overflows.

A week after Nicasio Reservoir overflowed March 13, county supervisors declared an agricultural emergency because of drought conditions afflicting Marin ranches. The supervisors’ resolution declaring the emergency is the first step toward getting federal aid for ranchers.

Marin County Agricultural Commissioner Stacey Carlsen told the supervisors rainfall at many dairy and livestock ranches has been 31 percent of normal. The low rainfall combined with unseasonably warm weather, strong winds, and frosty mornings has dried out grass and inhibited new growth, the agricultural  commissioner explained.

The forage losses in pastures and rangelands are roughly 50 percent, he estimated. This has forced ranchers to reduce herd sizes and to buy supplemental feed far earlier in the year than usual, Carlsen said. The cost of feed is continuing to rise, the agricultural commissioner noted, and this is having a severe impact on Marin ranches. This county’s ranches, he said, are already operating with narrow margins.

Nicasio Reservoir water rushes down the spillway below Seeger Dam and flows into nearby Papermill Creek.

Notwithstanding the drought affecting ranches, the big water districts in West Marin report they’re doing just fine, thank you very much. Already this month, West Marin has received almost 15 inches of rain. As of a week ago, Marin Municipal Water District’s seven reservoirs stood at 94 percent of capacity compared with 91 percent at this date in an average year.

Even before this weekend’s rainstorms, Libby Pischel, spokeswoman for Marin Municipal, told me, “We are not expecting any rationing [this year].” The MMWD system serves homes and businesses in the San Geronimo Valley and in most of East Marin south of Novato.

Novato-based North Marin Water District operates a satellite system serving Point Reyes Station, Inverness Park, and Olema. It gets its water for the system from wells beside Papermill Creek upstream from the Coast Guard housing site in Point Reyes Station. Most of the water feeding the wells originates in two MMWD reservoirs: Nicasio Reservoir seasonally and Lake Lagunitas year round. A small amount originates in San Geronimo Creek.

North Marin General Manager Chris DeGabriele on Friday told me, “We are not expecting any water restrictions next summer in West Marin.”

Despite there being plenty of water to satisfy homes and businesses in three small towns, as well as fish in the creeks, there is not nearly enough to irrigate hundreds of square miles of ranchland — even if there were pipelines for doing so. Hence the agricultural emergency.

January takes its name from Janus, the god of gates and doorways in ancient Rome and Greece. Small statues of the god, who had two faces, one looking inward and one looking outward, were often placed at the entrances to homes. New Year’s is likewise a gate between two years, making this a time to both look forward and look back. So here goes.

Nicasio Reservoir overflowed Seeger Dam last Thursday afternoon, Dec. 23, district staff reported. More than 9 inches of rain have fallen here in the last two weeks.

As 2010 comes to an end, Marin Municipal Water District is looking into the new year with healthy water supplies. MMWD provides water to the San Geronimo Valley, along with most of East Marin south of Novato, and as of this week, the district’s seven reservoirs were at 97 percent of capacity.

With more than 200 people on hand, Missy Patterson’s daughter Alicia Patterson Ferrando (at center) on Tuesday spoke emotionally about her mother’s love for her family, as well as her candor.

A reception in memory of Rosalie “Missy” Patterson, who died Dec. 19 at the age of 84, was held Tuesday afternoon in the Dance Palace. The reception was preceded by a High Church mass in St. Columba’s Episcopal Church. So many people were fond of Missy that there was standing-room-only in the church for much of the crowd.

Missy, who came to West Marin in 1959, was the mother of 11 children. For 28 years under four ownerships, she was circulation manager and front-office manager for The Point Reyes Light.

Missy worked for me 22 years, and at Tuesday’s reception I noted she came to learn so much about her job that she sometimes had to explain to government staff the regulations for dealing with newspapers. (Photo by Lynn Axelrod)

People in West Marin trusted Missy, and when the last publisher found that numerous oldtimers felt he had turned The Light into a scandal sheet and had stopped reading it, he made Missy a columnist in an effort to win them back.

The column, Ask Missy, was a compendium of Missy’s thoughts about the world. Sometimes she was indignant and sometimes bemused. In her last column, which was published three days before she died, she wrote about being hospitalized (with pneumonia) on Dec. 2.

If she’d had her way, Missy wrote, her friend Barbara would have driven her to Cabaline Country Emporium and Saddlery to look at some shoes, but Barbara instead drove her to the West Marin Medical Center.

Missy ended up in Kaiser’s Terra Linda hospital for a week and then stayed briefly with a friend before returning to Kaiser. In her final column she thanked everyone who had come to her assistance, adding, “Take good care of yourself… and it’ll keep you around almost longer than my 84 years.”