We've all been thinking about it and probably having conversations with our friends and neighbors, so what can we do? Some of the changes we will make boil down to rehabituating ourselves: running the initial cold water of a shower into a bucket, taking shorter showers, turning the flow off when soaping up, filling the sink with only a couple inches of soapy water to wash dishes are only a few good ideas. But what about simple upgrades to our home's water system that get the most out of our city water use and give us some independence from the public supply?
Graywater and rainwater catchment systems can supplement your city water usage and reuse laundry and bathing water. A safe, code-compliant, no-permit-needed system requires a modest investment and little to no additional effort after installation.
People are often surprised by the numbers: one inch of rain yields 620 gallons of storable water per 1000 sq. ft. footprint of roof (that's more than enough water for 3 people to drink the recommended 64-ounces a day for a year, although caught rainwater is generally best used for irrigation or toilet flushing); four loads of laundry a week could generate over 200 gallons of water for your landscape (the best high efficiency front loaders use closer to 55 gallons over four loads, which is itself a significant quantity).
We recently completed a graywater system on 14th Street of Los Osos. The young family there has a top-loading washer that uses at least 30 gallons per load that now flows into the roots of three newly planted fruit trees; an apple, an orange, and a lemon. They will be washing with a graywater-safe soap that leaves no sodiums, phosphates, or borates in the soil, and it will be years before they have to water those trees from a supplement source--they may never have to!
Rainwater storage tanks collect water from gutter downspouts and store it for landscape irrigation, toilet flushing, and even laundry use. Rain is the superior source of water for plants, and properly screened and stored rain can last indefinitely for these uses. Tanks come in a variety of capacities, dimensions, and colors and can even be painted to fit smoothly into your home environment. Watering can be done with a hose, or your irrigation can be connected to the tank and run on a pump or, in some cases, on gravity.
At our house, Grisel and I installed a laundry direct graywater system about 2 years ago to irrigate a few sickly and dry fruit trees in our yard, a lemon, avocado, and a fig. Even through the year of lowest local rainfall on record, with no other source of watering, these trees have flourished and this year for the first time are heavy with fruit. We are currently saving up for to purchase a large storage tank, but we did convert an old wine barrel and connected it to an 80 sq. ft. section of roof on our backyard cottage. The barrel fills up quickly when we get rain, and even heavy fog often adds inches. We consistently water about 10 to 15 potted plants and a young orange tree from this little barrel for about half of the year.
Utilizing our laundry discharge and stored rainwater allows us to keep a large yard of trees and plants healthy without depending exclusively on increasingly expensive city water. Only about 40 gallons per week flow from the tap to our plants, less than the current allotment per person per day here in Los Osos. These are simple and effective changes to our water use habits that have a significant immediate effect on our home environment as seen in the fruit trees and plants in our yard. But there are wider effects here: our laundry outflow will remain a source of groundwater recharge long after Los Osos homes connect to the new sewer system, and less output to the sewer will reduce chemical treatment demands at the new wastewater facility.
Making systematic changes to our use of resources might seem overwhelming, an eventual necessity that we easily put off until tomorrow. Simple residential graywater and rain-catchment systems are a practical choice for most homes that will pay for themselves in the long run, both financially and in terms of our quality of life.
If you want to find out more, please contact Zach Snider for a free 30-minute consultation. Call me at (805) 235-1905 or email at firstname.lastname@example.org.