Even in a Notorious Drought, There is a Grey Lining

Why Greywater is Actually Green and Many Other Reasons Why We “Love That Dirty Water”

Greywater.  Or Gray Water.  In case you haven’t heard (you’re not alone), greywater is water you just used from your bathroom sink, shower, tub, or washing machine.  Looking past the ubiquitous connotation that this liquid is “dirty”, greywater touts highly beneficial, economical irrigation for basic landscape needs.

Greywater may, and probably does, contain traces of dirt, hair, grease, or general household cleaning products. It is NOT water that comes from your toilet or has ever come into contact with feces or washing diapers.   Also, water from the dishwasher should be avoided, as many common detergents are laden with sodium, which is harmful to many ecological systems.

You may not realize it, but we all use A LOT of water.  In 2013, the average California household used 360 gallons of water a day, with a whopping 170 gallons coming from indoor use.  While the majority of this water comes from toilet flushes (you can use greywater to pour into your tank and save a flush), approximately 107 gallons are coming from greywater sources; providing an opportunity for savings and promoting water justice.

The key to greywater use is knowing where and how to use it.   Fruit trees, bushes, berry patches, shrubs, and large annuals love greywater as long as non-toxic, biodegradable products are used.  Deep waterings from a laundry line promote strong root growth.  For health reasons, we do not recommend allowing greywater to come into contact with the fruit/produce itself, so root or leafy vegetables or any subterranean food would be discouraged. However, watering fruit trees with greywater is a perfect fit!

So how much would a system set you back?  The cost of greywater systems varies on how simple or complex the plumbing is, how large your yard is, and who is doing the installation. On the simple systems, much of the work is digging: digging mulch basins, and digging trenches to bury pipe. For tight budgets, labor costs can be greatly reduced if you are willing to do the digging yourself, or find some eager friends or family who want to support greywater installations (and learn in the process!).

These are some rough average costs:

Laundry to Landscape– Materials only $100-$250, Full installation $700-$2,000

Branched drain– Materials only $200-$400 Full installation $800-$3,000

Pumped system-Materials only $400-$600 Full installation $1,000-$3,000

So before you head off and start washing your dishes in the shower or hacking into your laundry line, do a little research and soul searching to see if greywater is right for you.

Article by Matthew Lorton, Food Forward Volunteer and avid food and beverage writer.

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