A short article I just wrote at the request of the Klamath Falls Sustainable Communities group…
Yours truly testing out a system before filling in the basins with mulch.
Many of us in the water-starved arid west are letting a valuable resource get away from us: the greywater from our washing machines, sinks, and showers.
How silly is this…
Suburban Americans spend money to fertilize and then irrigate our gardens and landscaping with treated, potable water. We then turn around and sully additional potable water with soaps in our homes (effectively making it into fertilizer) and send it down our drains to the sewer, and eventually our local waterways via the treatment plant. As it turns out, sewage treatment plants are great at killing bacteria, but terrible at reducing the nutrient pollution from household soaps and greywater. In Klamath Falls, the Klamath River is already polluted by agricultural nutrients, and our greywater only adds to this Clean Water Act-violating pollution! On top of all this, up until last year, correcting this maddening situation with a home-scale diversion was 100% illegal! It’s enough to drive a person nuts with lots of exclamation points.
Subsurface greywater irrigation can be pretty simple, using the washing machine’s pump to send nutrient-rich water to the plants that need it.
Greywater outlaws no longer!
The good news is, it’s now legal to take matters into your own hands and create a decentralized, systemic solution to our current water problems with residential scale greywater systems. The Oregon Department of Environmental Quality legalized greywater diversions in 2012, and for $90 will issue you a permit to divert all the greywater in your home away from the sewer (and the river) and toward your thirsty fruit trees. The application for the permit itself is not super-technical, but there are some “grey” areas and so getting a little background in greywater is not a bad idea. The permit also requires you have fairly extensive documentation of your system on hand, so unless you’re a very adept DIYer with a background in sustainable water systems, I suggest you get some help.
A typical greywater mulch basin before landscaping has been finished. This one’s watering raspberries.
50 Shades of Greywater
There are truly at least 50 shades of greywater systems out there, but some have proven more effective than others for the greywater pioneers who’ve been testing them for decades in California and Arizona. We owe a lot to Art Ludwig in this regard, the Father of Greywater and author of the classic text “Create an Oasis with Greywater.” My own training comes from Greywater Action, a group that took Art’s progress and ran with it, working to legalize greywater in California and pioneering hundreds of installations. After following up and studying the effectiveness of their “research and development” in homes around California, the folks at Greywater Action sure make great teachers, and I’m proud to be one of their Certified Greywater Installers.
Once installed, however, greywater doesn’t have to look like greywater, it just looks like a thriving, beautiful landscape.
From Laundry to Landscape
Home-scale greywater diversions are usually done with the drain water from sinks, showers, and washers. Washing machines are the most popular “low hanging fruit” of greywater, because the diversion can be made without slicing into the house’s plumbing, and because washers have a built-in pump which gives you more options for irrigation. There are a variety of ways to get your washing-machine water out to your yard, the simplest being taking its drain hose out of the wall and sticking it out the window. To avoid ranging into outlaw territory though, you’ve got to pipe that water 6” underground for “subsurface” discharge, and it’s got to be directed at vegetation calculated to use the water as irrigation. In most cases, folks will want to use a Laundry2Landscape system that features an interior 3-way valve (legally required so you can choose whether to direct the flow to the sewer or your yard), and mulch-filled drainage basins sized to accommodate your flow and placed strategically around your perennial landscaping. Your shrubs and bushes, by the way, will thrive with this nutrient-rich, steady source of irrigation at the roots!
Under the hood on a laundry to landscape system. The interior pipes can be hidden creatively, of course.
Gettin’ er done
The good news is that a Laundry2Landscape system can be installed in a weekend by a trained DIYer, with a cost of around $200 in parts. I do recommend either attending a workshop (informational or hands on) or getting a consultation, as there is a complicated materials list and some fine points that can make or break the system.
Elemental Design/Build and your greywater system
I’m available to help you at whatever level suits your skill level and budget, from a one hour consultation to make sure your ducks are in a row, to a weekend installation class, or a comprensive, water-driven ecological design of your whole property. I’m offering a 3 hour “info-session” (April 13th) and a hands on weekend installation workshop (May 17-19) in Ashland this year, and I’m happy to repeat these workshops in Klamath Falls later in the spring if there is demand for it.
Preparing to lay the irrigation line means excavating around the drip lines of the vegetation you want to target.
100 Houses Greywater Challenge
I’m leveraging a one hundred house challenge for southern Oregon in 2013, banking on the fact that once a group of trendsetters paves the way, greywater diversions will be a common place feature in every home. If you take the 100 Houses Challenge, you’ll get a cool t-shirt, a sign for your yard if you want one, and recognition on my website if you choose it.
Please don’t hesitate to call or email me with your questions, and with the help of Leslie at KSC, we can organize some visits to Klamath Falls this spring so we can plan a greywater oasis for every yard that wants one!
Malena Marvin can be reached at malena [at] elementaldesignbuild.com or (541)821-7260. Learn more about her workshops at www.elementaldesignbuild.com.