Southern California survives on imported water. For a long time, waste of this precious resource was a way of life here, the green lawn a symbol of the American Dream. But the rivers that once seemed bottomless are drying up under the strain of climate change. Adjusting our attitudes towards water isn’t just important, it’s a matter of life and death.
Greywater Corps has been installing greywater systems in and around Los Angeles since 2009. Back then, it was illegal. Now, many cities promote them, and some are even footing the bill for residents to get their own.
So, what is Greywater?
Greywater is used water from showers, bathtubs, laundry machines, and sinks. It has long been considered waste, but the truth is it’s great for irrigation, no treatment is required.
Alicia had been dreaming about it for over a decade when she approached us to install a greywater system at her house. She warned us it would be a tricky site to build on, and that this had held her back in the past. She was right, but we were up for the challenge. Ever since then, every time someone takes a bath or shower in her house, the used water goes out to the garden to irrigate and fertilize her fruit trees.
If everyone in the city of LA put all their greywater back into the land instead of into the ocean, it would be the equivalent of 5″ of rain falling on the city! This would just about make up for some of the drought years we had recently, where we got around 6″ instead of the normal 12″.
This map shows most of the systems we’ve built to date. Our goal is to cover the entire city.
Our greywater systems are biodynamic systems that use natural processes to make a valuable resource of something that was once considered waste. They can be broken up into 3 categories based on how they move greywater: those that use gravity (branched drain), those that use a washing machine’s internal pump (laundry-to-landscape), and those that use a dedicated pump (pumped system).
Alicia has a pumped system that looks something like this.
Greywater systems have many benefits. First and foremost, they save water. You can reuse up to 80% of indoor water for irrigation. With a bit of thoughtful landscaping, greywater can easily cover 100% of your irrigation needs.
And what are the benefits of saving water with a greywater system?
Here is a by no means comprehensive list:
It will lower your water bill.
It will provide free food if you irrigate fruit trees, and cooler temps if you irrigate shade trees.
Cooler temps mean less AC. Less AC means lower power bills and less carbon emissions.
Carbon emissions are also impacted by reducing the need for water imports from NorCal and the Colorado River (Moving and treating water accounts for 19% of electrical power used in CA).
Reducing those water imports is a lifeline to thousands of ecosystems such as California’s legendary salmon runs.
Greywater contains organic nutrients that will naturally fertilize your plants.
A greywater system turns waste into a valuable asset, completing a holistic cycle that feeds from and into our daily lives, benefiting us directly, as well as the environment around us and at large. As the world continues to heat up due to climate change, greywater will help us build resilience, nourishing our families and the plants we depend on for generations to come.
Josep Ferrer is Communications Manager for Greywater Corps. He has been working with them to spread awareness of greywater and rainwater systems since 2016. When he’s not posting on their Instagram, Twitter, or Facebook accounts, you can probably find him in the bay or in the mountains enjoying water in one of its various forms.