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School saves on rainy days: Salmon group helps San Geronimo harvest runoff

San Geronimo Valley Elementary School has found a way to store water for its garden, help fish in a nearby creek and teach kids the value of sustainability all in one fell swoop.

Armed with a $16,000 grant from the state Water Resources Control Board, the local Salmon Protection and Watershed Network – SPAWN – worked up a plan to take rainwater from a roof, funnel it into a pipe and store it in a tank.

On Tuesday, school officials, members of SPAWN and others celebrated the “stormwater harvesting” project.

The end result is a new, grooved, plastic roof on the school’s outdoor lunch shelter. The slanted roof leads to a rain gutter where two downspouts take water into one pipe that leads to a new 30,000-gallon cistern near the school garden.

“In an average year, we’ll get 35,000 gallons of water right off this roof,” said Paola Bouley, SPAWN’s watershed biologist who coordinated the effort.

That water can be stored in the cistern and used during dry months to feed the school’s garden, where kale, snow peas, cabbage, broccoli, chard, sweat peas and other vegetables are grown for educational and school cooking projects. Excess water can be used to water a school field.

Taking the water off the roof prevents it from
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draining into a 10-inch-diameter storm pipe that empties onto an already eroded bank of Larsen Creek, which contains endangered coho salmon.

“It gets thrown into Larsen Creek very quickly, and erosion and sedimentation occurs,” Bouley said. “This helps to prevent stormwater from damaging the fish habitat.”

Josh Traub, who runs the school garden program, noted the project has several facets, including water conservation, species protection and locally grown food.

“It’s a really educational project on many levels,” he said.

It also should save the school a few dollars.

The project will save the Lagunitas School District from purchasing some 35,000 gallons of water, officials noted. In Marin, 33 percent of water demand during the summer drought period is used for landscaping.

“The idea is to get people thinking about water conservation and using water more efficiently,” said Todd Steiner, SPAWN director. “People can do similar smaller projects around their homes.”