Saturday, June 14, 2014

Becoming water-wise in the midst of a drought emergency

With California in the midst of an historic drought emergency, the governor is calling for a 20% reduction in domestic water use, but so far there have been no compulsory restrictions and Californians haven’t cut back water use significantly. Many prefer to blame our politicians.

It’s amazing how much domestic water we use. When I ask people how much water a typical California home with a family of four consumes per year, people usually underestimate it by a factor of at least 10. Studies show that a typical California home uses nearly 180,000 gallons of water per year (one third what it takes to fill an Olympic-size swimming pool); 70% of which is used for landscaping! Our home currently uses around 140,000 gallons per year and we hope to reduce our water consumption by 15% by using gray water to water our fruit trees.
Pre-filter with wood chips
and diverter to main sewer
(when needed)
Our grey water comes from our bath tub, sinks, washing machine and dish washer. It's a fairly basic system, like the one in this picture. The water cycles to a pre-filter that uses wood chips to purify the water, and then goes to an underground system using pea gravel to disperse the water among our trees.

To use gray water, we have to change our whole approach to cleaning products. We can no longer use products containing boron, salt, chlorine bleach, phosphates, etc. We have discovered that the safest (and cheapest) cleaning products to use are those our grandparents used to clean their homes: vinegar, baking soda, lemon oil, ammonia and "pure" Castile soap like Dr. Bronner’s.

We also hope to reduce our water consumption by another 10-15% by removing 70% of our lawn and replacing it with drought tolerant plants. We plan to do that project later this summer, when the city raises its incentive for turf removal from $1 to $2 per square foot.

“It's not easy being green,” said Kermit the frog. Nor is it cheap. Our gray water and lawn conversion will cost at least 4 K. But it is fun, and it feels good, to find ways to live green and to be water wise. I am sure that Kermit and his amphibian friends would appreciate our efforts.


  1. The Southwest has seen its worst drought in years, notwithstanding the downpour that might help things in the long run. While the steps you took may look pricey, it will be worth it once the water supply takes a hit once more. Also, your idea for the lawn has a lot of merit to it. It's a great way to sustaining a green facade without consuming a lot of water to keep them alive. Thank you for sharing these ideas, and hopefully other people pick up on it too. Cheers!

    Verna Griffin @ Axeon Water Technologies

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