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Garden Delights - August 2016

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Glorious Greywater in the Garden

by Kellen Watson

I think we can all agree that we are thankful for advancements in plumbing and sewage treatment since the Middle Ages. However, our current plumbing systems are shorting us on a great garden resource, a wellspring of irrigation water hiding inside our houses…greywater. 

Greywater is the gently used rinse water from your laundry machine, shower/bath, and bathroom sinks. For the last 150 years or so, since the advent of modern indoor plumbing, greywater has been mixed with and treated the same as blackwater, which is the water from toilets, kitchen sinks, and dishwashing machines. However, these two water types are not created equal! Greywater is quite clean, and should be viewed as a valuable resource for irrigation. Installing a greywater system can be a very easy project with a big positive impact. Rerouting your greywater to irrigate your landscape saves money on your water bill, as well as lessens the frequency with which aging waste-water treatment plants and septic systems need to be upgraded. Plus you’ll feel good knowing you’re using one of our most precious resources wisely. 

There are two main types of greywater system retrofits: the Laundry-to-Landscape system (coined by the grandfather of the greywater movement, Art Ludwig, of Oasis Designs) and the Showers-to-Flowers or branched drain system. In CA, no permit is needed for the Laundry-to-Landscape (L2L) system, and it is a cheap and easy DIY project. Most of the time, L2L systems only cost $100-150 to install. Depending on how often you wash laundry and whether you have a top-loader or front-loader machine, this system can divert thousands of gallons of water to your thirstiest trees, shrubs, and perennials. 

You may be wondering if greywater is safe, especially for fruit trees and edible landscapes? Yes. In fact, there are eight million grey water systems in the US with 22 million users. In 60 years, there have been one billion system user-years of exposure, yet there has not been one documented case of grey water transmitted illness.

How do you know if greywater is right for you? The ideal homes for greywater will…

  • Have a laundry machine located just about anywhere, but not:
  • On a second floor, interior-only wall 
  • On a first floor interior-only wall, if there is a slab foundation with no crawlspace 
  • Have, or plan to have, a perennial landscape (not lawn) that is level with or downhill from your washing machine
  • Have approval from the home’s owner, if renting
  • Use soaps that are sodium, boron, and chlorine free (such as Ecos or Oasis)
  • Not have concrete completely surrounding the outside area near the wall where the machine is located (ie. if your laundry outlets next to your driveway or patio, and there is not space between that concrete and the house, you would have to remove concrete to get the pipe out to the yard). 

To learn more, attend one of Daily Acts’ greywater workshops this summer. There are several coming up, so check out dailyacts.org to sign up. In Petaluma, on Thursday, July 21st, 6:30-8pm, there will be a great overview talk of greywater and rainwater at the Seed Bank. Then peruse four gorgeous greywater-fed gardens to get inspired, learn about installation and design, and try your hand at assembling parts on the Greywater Garden Oasis Tour, being offered in Petaluma on Saturday, August 6th, 9am-1pm. In Windsor, there will be an informational talk on Wednesday, August 24th, 6:00-7:30pm, and a hands-on installation workshop on Saturday, September 24th, 10am-1pm. Lastly, if you can’t make the July 21st Talk in Petaluma, there will be a similarly informative talk in Cotati on Wednesday, October 5th, 6-7:30pm. We’d love to see you at these free events!

Take Heart, Take Part, Take Action.