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Friday, December 4, 2009

I've said it before: if we all do a little bit, it adds up to a lot. A recent article in the LA Times spells it out in another way:

The UCLA report, titled "Graywater: A Potential Source of Water," estimated that if 10% of Southern Californians implemented graywater systems for their laundry, showers, dishwashers and faucets, "the potable water savings would be equivalent to, or larger than, the capacity of a modern, large seawater desalination plant such as those proposed for California."

The article also points out the lack of education about greywater at the state level. I guess it's up to us to make sure we do it right. Do your research!

Wednesday, November 18, 2009

Our leaders should be leading


It's great that these leading citizens are cutting back water usage by 50 and 60%. Reducing consumption is an important step in water conservation. But let's take the next step in creating a sustainable solution. Let's ask our leaders to be leading this effort.

People in public positions should be at the forefront of water conservation technology, not catching up. That doesn't mean more high tech gadgetry, and following lagging party lines. It means really paying attention to being part of the solution. Mayor Sanders and Councilmember DeMaio should be demonstrating effective use of greywater and rainwater harvesting. They should be setting an example of how water harvesting is the way that we are going to create a sustainable water source in San Diego.

Monday, November 16, 2009

Write Up on Sheepless.org

Scott Ballum of Sheepless.org came to visit with me at one of my clients houses last week. He wrote a little article about H2OME on his website. It's a great resource.

Friday, November 13, 2009

Free Screening of Tapped

Just wanted to let you know that SD Coastkeeper, Food & Water Watch, and
Pure Water Technologies are encouraging folks to join us for a free, yes
free, screening of Tapped at Ultra Star Cinema next Wednesday.

Tapped is a documentary about the bottled water industry and examines the
social, economic, and environmental impacts of bottled water. I get to see
a lot of films about water pollution and bottled water, but this is
definitely one of the best films I've seen on the subject.

The screening is next Wednesday, Nov. 18th at 7 pm if you are interested.
Please RSVP by emailing rsvptapped@gmail.com if you plan to attend the
screening. Please see the attached fliers for more info, and feel free to
forward this email to friends.

Thursday, November 12, 2009

Greywater Policy Position from: The Sustainability Alliance of Southern California

Dear Fellow Sustainability Advocates:

During our regular meeting on October 27, the Sustainability Alliance of Southern California adopted the following official policy position regarding graywater use in Southern California:

"It is the policy of the Sustainability Alliance of Southern California to promote maximum implementation of graywater systems in Southern California. We encourage all jurisdictions within Southern California to proactively support regulatory approval for graywater systems and that incentives, including cash rebates, sewage rate reductions, or reduction in water rates, be evaluated."

We are taking this position of support for graywater reuse for a number of reasons:

1) Simplest way to reclaim and reuse a valuable resource without expensive treatment and re-distribution.

2) Provides a readily available water source for irrigation of yards and greenbelts.

3) Conserves our most precious resource—fresh, potable water.

4) Cuts down on the amount of electricity needed to move water to and throughout our region.

5) Reduces the amount of wastewater that needs to be treated at publicly owned treatment works resulting in less effluent disposed of through ocean outfalls.

6) Less water treated translates to a reduction in related treatment costs and chemicals used in the treatment process.

Supporting this policy now makes sense because...

1) California is in a declared State of Emergency due to extended drought conditions and much needed, potable water is used to irrigate residential landscapes.

2) Statewide legislation supporting use of graywater was recently incorporated into existing building codes, 'opting in' every municipality for graywater use. To opt out, a municipality must hold a public hearing and show just cause for restricting or eliminating graywater use.

a) SB 1258 (which was signed into law in September 2008) directed the Housing and Community Development (HCD) agency to propose building standards for the construction, installation, and alteration of graywater systems for residential indoor and outdoor uses to the California Building Standards Commission (CBSC). Existing graywater standards contained in the California Code of Regulations, Title 24, California Plumbing Code, Part 5, Appendix G were based on requirements for private sewage disposal. These standards were found to be overly prescriptive and antiquated and not readily usable by people seeking to install graywater systems for the purpose of water conservation and reuse.

b) The emergency graywater regulations, which added Chapter 16A, Part I "Nonpotable Water Reuse Systems,” were approved by the CBSC on July 30, 2009. The emergency regulations were subsequently filed with the Secretary of State on August 4, 2009, effective immediately upon filing.

The two most significant changes in the new regulations:

1) Single Fixture Systems (such as clothes washers) no longer require a permit and

2) Irrigation lines no longer have to be buried 9 inches, but can simply be placed under 2 inches of mulch.

Wednesday, October 14, 2009

Irresponsible Greywater Reporting

I was just forwarded this article by a friend. The first instinct is to think: great! someone is talking about greywater in the media. But this is the kind of unfortunate stuff that is going to give greywater a bad name, and make California policymakers rethink their new leniency in their code policies.

One of the first things the article talks about is watering lawns with greywater. That is one of the big no-nos of greywater use! Bacteria that exists in the greywater can multiply and breed and a lawn is something that is normally a traffic area. Even if it's just ornamental, there are animals that can run across it, the occasional person that may make use of it for sitting on, playing on, whatever. Greywater is best used in mulched basins that are an unattractive place for animals and people to be in, usually because they have plants growing in them. Or greywater can be infiltrated underground.

Art Ludwig, the widely accepted greywater guru, on his website specifically indicates lawn irrigation with greywater as a mistake. Please use greywater responsibly! This is what he says:

Error: Use of grey water for irrigating lawns

The only proven safe and reliable way of irrigating lawns with grey water is through underground drip tubing supplied by a backwashing sand filter type system; far beyond what most residences are likely to install. Unfortunately, turf accounts for the bulk of the irrigation need in the typical landscape, and lawn grey watering is by far the most prevalent violation of common sense grey water safety rules.

This is awkward to write. Do I criminalize thousands of grey water users who see no harm in what they are doing, or do I condone a marginal activity?

If the lawn receives traffic, by applying grey water to the surface you are short circuiting the all-important purification step (see health rulespages 4, 8), inviting direct contact with untreated grey water and the possibility of transmitting pathogens. The likelihood of transmitting disease is small (it would be laughed off in most developing countries) but it exists. The nightmare scenario: the day care center that "saves money and the environment" by irrigating the lawn with diaper wash water, which a dozen toddlers from other families then play in (I know you think I'm making this up, but I saw it at my daughter's very highly regarded day care; they were just trying to do the right thing and spaced out a bit about the context).

If the lawn doesn't receive traffic, then it is less risky to irrigate it with grey water but it shouldn't be a lawn in the first place; the only legitimate reason to have one of these resource hogs is that they are more fun to play on than, say, a gravel and cactus garden. A better solution would be to replace the un-trafficked lawn with something else and irrigate that with grey water, if it needs irrigation at all.

Besides the health issue, grey watering a lawn is a pain in the rear. The system almost universally used is a hose from the washing machine or house plumbing which is moved around. Since the water has to be applied within the root system to benefit the plant, you have to move this hose to numerous locations in a very small grid, as compared to say, a large fruit tree, which would benefit from water left to dump anywhere within an area of hundreds of square feet.

Perforated pipe under the lawn will have efficiency in the single digits, and leave some areas completely dry.

Preferred practice

We suggest that you replace most of your turf with something else, replace what's left with a water-conserving grass such as Tall Fescue, watered with the freshwater you save from using grey water elsewhere, or just let your lawn go dormant when there's not enough rain to sustain it.


Lawns can be irrigated well and safely through subsurface drip ($1500 on up. 300 gpd grey water generation/irrigation need is the break even point where such a system starts to make sense).

Wednesday, August 26, 2009

I recently had the opportunity to meet Author and Innovator Michael Mobbs, Sustainable Home, at his inner city home in Chippendale, Sydney.  Here he is off the grid for water.  He catches rainwater for showering, cooking, and drinking after which the greywater and blackwater is treated through a series of sand, gravel, and peat beds ending with a solar powered zap of UV rays.  It is then recycled in the home and used for laundry and toilet needs.

Not only does he concern himself with his direct ecological footprint, he has made an effort to include his neighborhood in his concerns by creating an edible street fed by stormwater, along with adding community composting bins.  You can read about his neighborhood efforts here.  

He and his neighbors disconnected the storm drains leading from their gutter downspouts to the street guttter and perforated them, running them through the nature strips in front of their houses, which are planted with food plants and natives along the whole street

Street Compost Bins offer neighborhoods a resource to put their food scraps in and reap the rewards, if they don’t have the space in their own places.  Furthemore, neighborhood residents are paid in local café currency to take care of the compost bins.  

Look at this list of achievements over an 18 month period!

·      Road gardens built by residents and businesses for ~ $4,000 + ~ $3,000 from council 

·      Six folk trained to maintain public compost bins 

·      Value of resident and business maintenance labour @ $20 an hour over $5,000 a year 

·      Over 1,000 fruit trees and plants planted, about 30 trees and several dozen herbs stolen or broken by local human Galahs (pesky birds that travel in flocks and destroy parklands)

·      Stopped over 4 million litres of stormwater entering Sydney Harbour each year -at a cost of less than $100 

·      Grow over 5% of citrus and herbs needed by about 150 households by 2011 

·      Cut food miles by over 5,000 k for every harvesting house 

·      Grow conversations in the streets -several blogs, facebookpages and many local stories 

·      Grow community gardening skills 

·      Conducting possibly the first public trial of composting -four x 400 litre compost bins 

·      Trialled and proven a way to water street gardens with roof water at a one-off cost of less than $5 per house 

·      Trialled a way of diverting compost liquid nutrients below ground to irrigate the citrus and road gardens at a total cost per bin less than $10 

·      Kept over 12 tonnes of food waste out of council tips, prevented over 3 tonnes of greenhouse pollution

·      Stopped over 4 million litres of rain water leaving our streets to pollute Sydney Harbour for a total one off capital cost of less than $200 and no maintenance costs 

Bringing this sort of simple technology out to the streets fosters community spirit.  Once we think as a community, we start to make decisions based on not only our own needs, but with a thought to how our actions affect those around us, including our local ecology.  What an inspiration!

When technology turns an old idea into something complex and energy intensive

A link was sent to me involving this great story about a shower that filters the water through a plant system and turns it into potable water.  It looks fun and interesting to someone who sees the value of creating a solution for water shortages.  However, for those of us involved in water conservation, who know about greywater, it's kind of silly.  

Looking at the comments underneath the article I felt relieve that I'm not the only one who finds that making a simple solution complex and overengineered creates all kinds of problems.  When we start adding to many moving parts, and relying on too many energy sources, we find that there is a greater chance of failure, which means that we lose faith in the original solution (in this case, reed beds, sand, and gravel purifying water).  As the chance of failure increases, there is more opportunity for naysayers to exploit shortcomings, translating an inappropriate use of technology to a public health danger in the actual simple concept, which then translates to overcomplicated laws and regulations preventing people from doing the right thing in a slow, simple, and safe scenario.  California greywater laws (until it recently changed to allow residents to apply greywater to landscape without a permit) were a perfect example of the fear factor gone awry!  Arizona greywater laws are a perfect example of creating an atmosphere of safe application of a simple concept without the need to overcomplicate things.

I say, make yourself an outdoor shower and let the runoff trickle right onto the plants that need it!  

Sunday, August 23, 2009

Sydney Water

Sydney receives an average of 40 inches of rain per year as opposed to our 10 inches.  Sydney residents pay .007 cents per gallon of water.  Up from .004 cents per gallon in 2005.  This is 58% raise in 4 years.  We pay .004 cents per gallon, expected to go up 40% in the next year resulting in about .006 cents per gallon.  Sydney reduced water use by 10% city wide since 2005, that despite a population increase of 5%.  People in Sydney use 90 gallons per person per day, compared to our 180 gallons.  How does this compare when we consider the minimal amount of rain we get?!

Sydney is a wet city, comparitively, on a dry continent, and yet they still get it!  They encourage their citizens to conserve by offering rebates on water tanks and greywater systems.  They have incredible resources readily available to anyone and everyone from your average citizen interested in conserving, to someone who wants to put in a tank, to teachers in schools.  

Check out some of the projects that Sydney City is involved in to help conserve water.  Maybe we can be inspired!

From Sydney's water department website:

    Sydney Water's rebate is available to residential, commercial and industrial customers who install a rainwater tank before June 2010.

    You can get a rebate of up to $1,500 depending on:

    • the date you bought your tank
    • the size of your tank (State Government)
      • 500-1000gallons $150
      • 1000-1850 gallons $400
      • 1850+ $500
    • (Federal Government) whether a licensed plumber connects your rainwater tank supply to your toilet ($500) and/or washing machine ($500). National Rainwater and Greywater Initiative

    Water restrictions currently in effect:

  • Hand-held hosing of lawns and gardens and drip irrigation is now allowed only on Wednesdays and Sundays before 10 am and after 4 pm
  • No other watering systems or sprinklers are to be used at any time
  • A permit from Sydney Water is required to fill new or renovated pools bigger than 10,000 litres
  • No hosing of hard surfaces including vehicles at any time
  • No hoses or taps to be left running unattended, except when filling pools or containers
  • Fire hoses must only be used for fire fighting purposes – not for cleaning.

Saturday, August 22, 2009


A couple days ago I met two lovely people, Peter and Julie, here in Sydney.  They are enthusiastic Permaculturists.  They installed an aquaponics system in their backyard.  In a large tank, they are growing fresh water perch, a native Australian fish.  The water is circulated up to

 two smaller tubs filled with small gravel (called blue metal) and has plants growing right out of the gravel including lettuce, mustard greens, celery, strawberries.  The plants are thriving on this nutrient rich water; the water is cleaned through the gravel and plants and circulated back down to the fish.  It was inspiring to see how their motivation turned into something so productive.

Aquaponics (IPA: /ˈækwəˈpɒnɪks/) is the symbiotic cultivation of plants and aquatic animals in a recirculating environment.

Aquatic animal effluent (for example fish waste) accumulates in water as a by-product of keeping them in a closed system or tank (for example a recirculating aquaculture system). The effluent-rich water becomes high in plant nutrients but this is correspondingly toxic to the aquatic animal.

Plants are grown in a way (for example a hydroponic system) that enables them to utilize the nutrient-rich water. The plants take up the nutrients, reducing or eliminating the water's toxicity for the aquatic animal.

The water, now clean, is returned to the aquatic animal environment and the cycle continues. Aquaponic systems do not discharge or exchange water. The systems rely on the natural relationship between the aquatic animals and the plants to maintain the environment. Water is only added to replace water loss from absorption by the plants, evaporation into the air, or the removal of biomass from the system.

Aquaponic systems vary in size from small indoor units to large commercial units. They can use fresh or salt water depending on the type of aquatic animal and vegetation.

See who is doing it in San Diego here.

Tuesday, August 18, 2009

Working Together!

This is KC from Monty's Plumbing. He and I work together on greywater projects. It is great finding a plumber who is passionate about water conservation and sees the wisdom of greywater as part of the solution for our water shortage. Not many plumbers understand how to interact with greywater or are willing to divert greywater if they do understand what it is.

KC works with me to install Jandy Neverlube Diverter valves within existing plumbing, or new plumbing in the case of remodels or new construction, and divert the water out of the house. From there I work with customers to determine the best and safest place to put the water and the best landscape to hold the water.

Veggie Planting Calendar

The list I've always wanted!  
Happy planting!  Think about where your water will be falling and make less work for yourself by directing downspouts into planted areas.  Avoid runoff by creating basins instead of mounds.  Avoid flooding and erosion by creating places for the water to overflow.  

Saturday, August 15, 2009

Water Tanks 101

San Diego gets an average of 10 inches of rain a year.  Most people don't think that's worth catching.  But a 1000 square foot roof can catch 600 gallons of water in 1 inch of rain.  That can add up pretty quickly!

Check out this Sydney Guide for selecting a tank.

Considerations for water tanks are material: plastic, metal, ferrocement.  Don't use white tanks as they will grow algae in the sun.  

The amount of filtration you do before the water gets into the tank will determine the amount of maintenance you have to do.  Simple filtration includes a Leaf Eater and Downspout Diverter to divert the first flush of water which is usually the dirties from the tank.  According to the city of Sydney you need to check your tank for sludge at least every two to three years.  

It is ideal to have your tank at a high point in your landscape in order to avoid a pump.  If you do intend to use drip irrigation, you may need to use a pump to get ideal efficiency.

There are several tank materials to choose from including plastic, metal, concrete, and fiberglass.  Plastic and metal are relatively lightweight and easy to move into position.  You want to choose a dark, thick plastic to avoid algae growth and withstand UV rays.  You may need to line a metal tank to prevent corrosion.  Concrete can be made to shape using ferrocement techniques discussed in a book by Art Ludwig.  

There are two types of tank systems: a wet and a dry system.  In a dry system the water is all gravity fed from the source (the roof) into the tank.  In a wet system, you can have the tank some distance from the house and put the pipes underground and bring them back up into the tank.  As long as the inlet to the tank is below the gutter entrance, the water will flow into the tank.  The issue with this system is that you will always have standing water in the pipes.  If you have freezing temperatures, this could cause pipes to break.  Also, you need to protect both the entrance and outlet against mosquitos.  

Always plan an overflow.  If your tank fills, where will the extra water go?  It's great if you can send it into a greywater basin and push the built up salts down through your soil.

Greywater Codes Change

Greywater is a great way to conserve water and become more in tune with your space and the water that you use.  Now California has made it easier for people to use their greywater, abandoning their intricate permitting process in some cases, and alleviating some of the restrications that prevented most homeowners from creating a greywater solution in their spaces.  Checkout the article in the Union Tribune:  California Greywater Codes Changed!

However, with the easing of restrictions, there has been no simultaneous move to educate the general public on the best practices for using greywater.  So we need to educate ourselves.  Please look at Art Ludwig's website and Brad Lancaster's website in the resource list for more information on how to implement greywater systems.  Also, look at these 15 greywater guidelines put out by the state of Arizona.  They are very helpful in preventing problems and creating useful solutions.


Irena Salina’s film FLOW: For Love of Water is a comprehensive look at water issues around the world. Both moving and informative, FLOW shows us the struggles that communities from Michigan to India are undertaking to protect their most precious resource—water. Water infrastructure is a hot issue right now in the US. With a new administration that promises to address problems of crumbling infrastructure, our movement is poised to be able to make significant change. Whether you’re already a seasoned activist or are new to the issue, FLOW will inspire you to fight for water justice.

Thursday, May 14, 2009

Hello fellow water activists!  

I got this email from the office of the Mayor and thought I would share my thoughts on it.  Maybe we can all start thinking a little differently and let the Mayor know what is important to us: 

From Mayor Jerry Sanders

The city of San Diego is set to receive $12.5 million in Energy Efficiency and Conservation Block Grants through the federal economic stimulus package. I’m proposing that a portion of the grant money be used for a major solar project in Balboa Park and would like the community’s input on this and other ideas for making the most of these funds.

If you’d like to weigh in, please join the city’s Intergovernmental Relations Department at one of the following public forums.  Both meetings will start at 6:00 p.m.


Tuesday, May 12, 2009

La Jolla/Riford Branch Library

7555 Draper Ave.

La Jolla, CA 92037


Wednesday, May 20, 2009

Civic Center Concourse – Silver Room

202 C St.

San Diego, CA 92101

I'm definitely not against solar energy, but let's look at some simple numbers:

If the city took that $5 million and gave out $500 rebates for rainwater tanks, 10,000 people could install tanks.  If each of those people put in a 1500 gallon tank (which you can get for just over $500 in the best case scenario) that would be 15,000,000 gallons of water (maybe twice that depending on if people fill up their tanks more than once a year) that the city doesn't have to pay for from the Metropolitan Water district.  Instead he wants to use $5 million towards a $30 million project that will pay for 2000 residents to have electricity powered by solar energy.   Hmmmm...  sounds like we are putting money in someone's pocket but not solving anything on a large scale. 

Maybe I'm oversimplifying things, but can we start asking questions and putting the bug in someone's ear about this?  Let's talk about it and see if we can do something to change the way the government thinks about $$ allocation.