Gray water's grass roots
In a grass-roots effort, a Los Angeles community pushes the plant-saving practice of reusing water from showers, baths, sinks, and washers.
Eco Village, near Koreatown, Los Angeles
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On this day, Laura Allen, cofounder of Greywater Action, a group that encourages conserving and reusing household water, is in her fourth of a five-day workshop teaching Californians how to reclaim and recycle what has been dubbed "gray water." Typically, gray water includes the discharge from washing machines, sinks, showers, and tubs, which is then used to provide moisture for outdoor plants, from backyard rosebushes to large orchards.
While progress has been made – many institutions, corporations, and municipalities around the world use gray water – activists say there's still a long way to go. And it's groups such as Greywater Action that are helping to drive change.
"Grass-roots efforts – seeing an issue and trying to do something by acting individually and being responsible stewards – are very important," says Kathy Robb, founder and director of the Water Policy Institute in New York.
As an example, she points to the fact that before regulations in California were changed last August to make it legal for homeowners to install or alter a simple gray-water system without a construction permit, there were already an estimated 2 million unpermitted systems in the Golden State.
This is evidence, Ms. Allen says, that, given the opportunity, state residents will embrace the technology for both economic and environmental reasons.
'Laundry to landscape' systems
'This is the way the world is going. We all need to learn to save water," says Trent Cawthon, a handyman from Redondo Beach, Calif., who aspires to be a contractor and feels that expertise with gray-water systems will make his services more valuable.
Mr. Cawthon is part of a four-person team that has designed a simple "laundry-to-landscape" system. They will practice their skills at the community center, running plastic pipes from the laundry room to the front of the building, where the rinse water will irrigate four fruit trees.
Cawthorn's teammate, Allan Haskell from Echo Park, Calif., runs a green consulting business that helps restaurants find compostable containers for takeout food. He hopes to expand his business to encompass gray-water planning.
Diana Lawrence, a former urban planner, is attending the workshop because she hopes to downsize her utility bills through gray-water usage.
Landscape architect Robin Grabs of San Pedro, Calif., has come because two clients requested gray-water systems. It's fascinating, she says, but the amount of information is overwhelming.