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Friday, April 18, 2014

Recycling Greywater As California Drought Persists

Southern Californians crowd in for a lesson on laundry-to-landscape gray water systems at the LA Eco-Village. (Molly Peterson/KPCC)

Southern Californians crowd in for a lesson on laundry-to-landscape greywater systems at the LA Eco-Village. (Molly Peterson/KPCC)

As the California drought continues, residents are being back to cut back their use of water by 20 percent. One way to do that is to use greywater — recycled water from showers, sinks, and washing machines.

But even though the state allows homeowners to install their own recycled water capture systems, there are some obstacles to the process.

From the Here & Now Contributors Network, Molly Peterson of Southern California Public Radio reports.




This is HERE AND NOW from NPR and WBUR Boston. I'm Meghna Chakrabarti.

California officials are asking residents to cut water use by 20 percent to offset the statewide severe drought there. One conservation technique: recycling so-called gray water, the water that comes from showers, sinks and washing machines. California passed one of the first laws to allow home graywater use. But as KPCC's Molly Peterson reports, there are some obstacles.

MOLLY PETERSON, BYLINE: At my little house in Los Angeles, I can walk out my kitchen door a dozen steps to a stacked washer-dryer in a shed out back. My laundry water contains soap, maybe some bacteria, hair and lint, but it's good enough to water outdoor plants. This is the most common type of gray water, and in most homes, mine included, it disappears down the drain. But over the last 15 years, a committed network of do-it-yourselfers has installed systems to capture used household water and funnel it outside for landscaping. Laura Allen co-founded Greywater Action. She says the biggest obstacle to their cause is a lack of awareness.

LAURA ALLEN: And when your water comes from really far away, there's no need in people's mind to be aware and there's no - no one's forcing you to be aware of what's going on with these water sources. It's harder. It takes more education.

PETERSON: Allen holds gray water workshops. On a recent Saturday, she showed 40 participants a graywater irrigation system at the Los Angeles Eco-Village.

ALLEN: Right. The mulch filters it, and then it soaks into the soil.

UNIDENTIFIED WOMAN: Now, do you take mulch all the way around or just around the hose?

ALLEN: No, just where you need, yeah.


ALLEN: There's one there. There's multiple ones. There's one there.


PETERSON: A change in California law a few years back means that these people can install their own laundry water capture systems at home. The cost is low - a few hundred dollars of plumbing parts. Part of Allen's lesson is pulling pieces of plumbing out of a bag and helping people identify them.

JOSH FERRARI: Oh, that's the green back ball valve.

PETERSON: That's Josh Ferrari. He came here with his parents, Mike and Margie.

MARGIE FERRARI: I've always been a believer in reducing and reusing and reclaiming and regifting and every word.


FERRARI: And so the idea that we can reuse water that's just, right now, going into our septic tank, you know, is very exciting.

CHAKRABARTI: The Ferraris want to recycle all their available graywater. But capture systems on showers and bathroom sinks require permits and inspections. Officials in her town told Margie nobody's ever applied before. Part of the problem is the complexity of the state rules governing the process. Architect Leigh Jarrard installs graywater systems. He says the state worked with traditional plumbers to write the gray water rules and their thinking is old-fashioned.

LEIGH JARRARD: You know, gray water violates the essential plumber's creed, which is that there's supply and there's waste and never the twain shall meet.

PETERSON: One Angelino who went through the process is Mark Vallianatos. He got permits and installed a system that captures all the gray water in his house. But there were a few speed bumps in the inspection process. Health departments worry do-it-yourselfers will potentially cross the streams, mixing drinking water with the dirty stuff. A health inspector made Vallianatos' contractor redo part of his installation.

MARK VALLIANATOS: He had to paint on the side of this weird little plastic tank on my hillside, you know, not potable water, do not drink, which seems ridiculous because no one's going to be coming, you know, snooping around and - but it's that kind of thing that seems sort of weird.

PETERSON: Still, Vallianatos says the hassle was worth it. His house sits atop steep hill, and he likes to watch his graywater flow down to fruit trees below.

VALLIANATOS: It's something you can look at, you can touch, kind of connects you to the - your surroundings better than if everything is invisible in city pipes. So I like it for that reason too.

PETERSON: Vallianatos is the kind of guy who's doing everything he can to understand his water supply. He wants state and local agencies to help other people do that too. For HERE AND NOW, I'm Molly Peterson in Los Angeles.

CHAKRABARTI: And Molly's story comes to us by way of KQED's California Report. This is HERE AND NOW. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

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