The first rains of the season that fell over Marin two weeks ago had San Rafael resident Lisa Chipkin outside her home excitedly studying how the rainwater was flowing on her property. She was gathering information to help her transform her property from one that wastes rainwater by diverting it as runoff down storm drains, to one that values it as a resource to benefit her landscape and surrounding stream eco-systems.

Chipkin’s interest in rainwater harvesting began when she attended a tour of rainwater harvesting and rain garden projects in 2008 led by the Salmon Protection and Watershed Network (SPAWN), a community-based organization based in West Marin. SPAWN had been actively promoting rainwater harvesting as a tool to both reduce impacts of storm water runoff that are threatening the recovery of Marin’s endangered coho salmon as well reduce the use of potable water from behind dams on Lagunitas Creek for landscape irrigation which typically accounts for 30-50% of residential water use in Marin and across California. In 2008,SPAWN received a Marin Community Foundation grant to help promote rainwater harvesting as part of a strategic initiatives program to address impacts of climate change. With the grant, they installed 18 rainwater harvesting projects in Marin at local schools and residences, and began leading community tours showcasing the projects, as well as hands-on workshops to teach others how to design and install their own.

Chipkin, an Environmental Forum of Marin graduate and intern with SPAWN through a partnership with Dominican University’s Sustainable Practices Certificate Program, now helps co-lead the tours and workshops in and among Marin neighborhoods. A long-time proponent of water conservation, she has found a new and growing passion in rainwater harvesting. “I had never really considered the full impact that storm water runoff from impervious surfaces (rooftops, driveways, parking lots, streets) had not only on creeks, but also on our soils and overall ecosystem health,” said Chipkin. “I finally understand how feeding rainwater back into the soil is about more than just mitigating floods and creek erosion or conserving water. It’s also about improving the health of the soil and plants, and giving water back to the natural hydrologic cycle that sustains our streams that have been so depleted by impervious surfaces in developed areas.”

Lisa is just one in a growing wave of people motivated to learn more about using rainwater as a means of water conservation. With California now in its third year of drought and a shortage of clean, fresh water on the planet, individuals, organizations and agencies all around the state are looking at how to creatively and sustainably meet their water needs into the future. “Rainwater collection has long been overlooked in our part of the world, but has been used successfully for millennia by populations living in the driest of climates. Now it’s gaining popularity as people realize that it can reduce their dependence on treated municipal water, which can be conserved for important human needs such as drinking and bathing.”

Through her experience with SPAWN and some self-study, Lisa can now put important principles into practice on her own property. By implementing a simple network of rainwater catchment tools, including cisterns, native plants, mulched and vegetated “earthworks” like berms and basins, she plans to slow down the rainwater as it hits her property, store it and sink it into the ground. “I am so excited to participate in the natural water cycle as it was meant to be. I feel like I can be part of a larger, long-term and regenerative solution to water shortages and ecological imbalances by doing so, even by starting with my little borrowed piece of paradise.”

MORE INFO: SPAWN is offering tours of local rainwater harvesting projects (September 25th & 26th) and workshops on building your own rain garden (October 3rd & November 7th). Spaces fill quickly! For more information or to register, visit or contact Lisa Chipkin at, 415-845-3568.


If you’d like more information about this topic, or to schedule an interview with Lisa Chipkin or Paola Bouley, please call Lisa Chipkin at 415-845-3568, or email Lisa at