BY MARGARET MAGNUS & SAM ERVIN
The Weeds 'n' Water fundraising campaign and new water treatment system in 2003 started a chain reaction. It in motion a number of projects and ongoing activities along with a planning approach that continue to shape Meher Mount today.
Weeds ‘n’ Water was both a fundraising campaign to raise $24,000 and a project to provide potable water and purchase a ride-on mower for weed abatement and fire protection for Meher Mount.
Its success demonstrated the power of planning and fundraising with community support and participation. In addition, Weeds ‘n’ Water helped to create a better visitor experience and to make the Manager/Caretaker job more manageable.
Investment in Infrastructure Pays Off
Meher Mount – with a few notable exceptions, such as the Visitor Center/Caretaker Quarters – has had a history of minimal infrastructure. In addition, that infrastructure had been continually patched and re-patched. In 2003, it was time to focus on building an infrastructure that went beyond piecemeal, inadequate, and temporary fixes.
Meher Mount needed an investment of time, energy, and money to build support systems and to purchase equipment that could serve as a basis for future development and improved operations.
In 2003, the water treatment system was not sufficient to support the level of use required by the increasing number of visitors or adequately support the Manager/Caretakers. The time had come for those interested in Meher Mount’s future and long-term potential to solve the water problem.
Over the years, each and every Manager/Caretaker had identified water as the number one issue. Meher Mount is blessed with a productive well, but the water quality is problematic and has a strong sulfur smell. It has high levels of sulfur, manganese, iron, and other chemicals and minerals.
At that point, 57 years since the founding of Meher Mount, the water system, while providing for irrigation, had never produced drinkable water. This situation continually created great hardship for the Manager/Caretakers and limitations for visitors.
It was estimated that a water treatment system would cost $17,000 to provide potable water for an average of four to six people and provide sufficient water for occasional events.
Weed abatement was and is a major focus of Meher Mount’s ongoing maintenance by the Manager/Caretakers. For many years, the Manager/Caretakers and other volunteers used hand tools and a push mower to meet the yearly Ventura County Fire Department’s requirements for fire hazard abatement.
Mowing around the buildings and the path to Baba’s Tree and other important paths and spots is done year round, especially during the rainy season. Continual weed abatement is critical for making Meher Mount welcoming and usable by visitors and for reducing the danger of fire, rattlesnakes and other problems.
It was estimated that a ride-on mower would cost $7,000 to reduce the risk of fire and meet ongoing fire abatement requirements.
Successful Fundraising Is Possible
Meher Mount had always been plagued by a shortage of funds. Former lifetime caretaker Agnes Baron sold strawberries and did substitute teaching to keep Meher Mount for Avatar Meher Baba.
Over the years, donations had been provided by individuals when needed, but there was no history of a concentrated community fundraising effort for a project or for ongoing maintenance at Meher Mount.
The Weeds ‘n’ Water capital campaign helped change that approach. In July 2003, a group of volunteers, led by Sam Ervin and Margaret Magnus and joined by Manager/Caretakers Ray Johnston and Elizabeth Arnold, launched the Weeds ‘n’ Water fundraising campaign.
The group included: Merwan Adams, Ellie Azhang, Jim Auster, Ellen Bailey, Ken Ceder, Jamshid Ebrahimzadeh, Billy Goodrum, Pamela Goodrum, Payam Russ, Marko Swearingen, Shani Verchick, Ed Flanagan, Bing Heckman, Lola Long, Bob Hazard, Glenn Russ, Mahmoud Ajang, Nasrin Ajang, and Jim Whitson.
The Weeds ‘n’ Water campaign raised $24,302 from 82 donors. An additional $2,500 was donated for the general fund.
Building on that success and experience, Meher Mount volunteers immediately started an Annual Fund Campaign for fiscal year 2004/2005 to support Meher Mount operations. There has been an Annual Fund campaign every fiscal year since then. These funds have provided for Meher Mount’s maintenance and allowed Meher Mount to continue to make small and large investments in infrastructure projects.
The Weeds 'n' Water campaign also established the precedent that all of Meher Mount’s board members participate in fundraising campaigns. The board subsequently adopted a policy that each director make a financial contribution to every annual fund campaign.
Meher Mount Has a Growing Body of Supporters
One of the purposes of the fundraising campaign was to identify and build the Meher Mount community. During Weeds ‘n’ Water, the committee formalized the list of donors, participants and interested persons.
The list began to expand as individuals visited Meher Mount and signed in the guest register and asked to be on the mailing list. Today, Meher Mount has 1,856 individuals who have opted to be on Meher Mount's contact list.
New Water System Is Installed
The Water System Committee included Sam Ervin (Chair), Jim Auster, Billy Goodrum, Marko Swearingen, and Ray Johnston with assistance from Elizabeth Arnold, Margaret Magnus, Marc Stenzel, Bob Hazard, and Jamshid Ebrahimzadeh.
In August 2003, the committee identified the process and timeline for selecting a water system along with the water system selection criteria. Based on the water system criteria, the committee identified a list of potential vendors. Each was asked to bid on the system. After reviewing the proposals, the committee interviewed the two finalists in October 2003. After meeting with the finalists, the committee evaluated the proposals in detail and selected REMCO.
A number of components were added and changes made to the water system, including:
- Digging a 1,500-foot long trench from the well down in the canyon up to the 50,000-gallon swimming pool that now acts as a reservoir for all water uses, including irrigation and household uses.
- Replacing the old iron pipe from the well to the pool with 1.500 feet of new PVC pipe.
- Adding 1,500 feet of PVC conduit for a new electric line from the well to near the pool to allow switching of the pump in the well on and off. Previously, caretakers had to drive or walk down to the well to switch on the pump and fill the pool.
- Installing a tight and strong cover over the entire pool and strengthening the fence around the pool.
- Installing a new 5,000 gallon tank with an ozonator and UV system for helping purify the water in the 5,000 gallon tank.
- Installing a float and sump pump system in the pool for automatic water level maintenance and pumping water into either the new 5,000 gallon tank or into the existing smaller irrigation tank.
- Engaging REMCO engineering to install a new water treatment system near the pool that pumps water from the new tank through fiber filters, carbon filters and a water softener, and then to the house.
- Building a roof over the water treatment components to protect them from weather and tree droppings.
- Installing a reverse osmosis unit at the kitchen sink for potable water.
This system has resulted in water for the house that doesn’t smell of sulhur, that is virtually free of sulhur, heavy metals and biological contaminants, and therefore can be used for all normal household purposes, including affording potable water at the sink. Untreated water from the pool is still used for irrigation.
The water treatment system was in place by February 2004. The total cost of the project was $17,580.
Ongoing Weed Abatement Gets Easier
Ongoing weed abatement was the second issue addressed. After substantial research by Ray Johnston, Meher Mount purchased a John Deere industrial ride-on mower which is still used almost 15 years later. It remains a valuable complement to the tractor purchased years later with its much bigger “bush hog” mower.
Weeds ‘n’ Water Sets Master Plan in Motion
Weeds ‘n’ Water demonstrated the value of a significant investment in infrastructure and equipment that can pay dividends in efficiency and labor-saving over many years. The water system, with tweaks and repairs, and the ride-on mower, with good care, are still in use almost 15 years later.
Weeds 'n' Water also inspired the board and the community to begin talking about long-range planning and future infrastructure needs. To that end, the first long-range planning community meeting was in February 2004. From there evolved a more formal master plan that was adopted in 2012.