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Old Baldy, Canada | photo by Cameron Schaus
Conservation Issues of the Ventana Chapter | monterey county

A great way to save water

August 2010
Marine Sanctuary Center
  LeAnne Ravinale demonstrates the diversion valve she has just installed on Pat Dellin's washing machine drain. Photo: Debbie Bulger

by Debbie Bulger

When Sierra Club member Pat Dellin does her laundry in the summer, she waters her fruit trees. That’s because Dellin, who lives on the eastside of Santa Cruz, has put in a laundry-to-landscape irrigation system.

Constructing her new system was made easier by changes this year to the State plumbing code which now exempts laundry-to-landscape graywater systems from construction permitting. More complicated graywater installations, such as using drain water from bathtubs and showers, do require a permit.

Dellin learned about using graywater from her next door neighbor, LeAnne Ravinale, a certified graywater installer who works with Love’s Gardens. Since Pat was already environmentally aware and has solar panels on her roof and a permeable patio area in the backyard instead of concrete, installing a laundry-to-landscape system was just the next step.

When asked why she put in the water-saving system, Pat joked, “So I could keep up with my neighbor—not really! I like to use as little water as possible.” Laundry-to-landscape systems typically cost about $1000, however; Pat has reduced the cost somewhat by doing some of the work herself under LeAnne’s guidance.

How it works
Water expelled from the washing machine can either flow into the sewer line or, if a handle is turned, be diverted to the yard for irrigation. The water flows out of the washing machine into a plastic pipe which leads to the yard. From the main pipe, flexible half-inch lines lead to mulch beds around selected plants. The outlet end of the half-inch line, which can contain lint and other solids from the wash, must be buried under at least two inches of mulch. When constructing a system, LeAnne likes to enclose the outlets under old gallon plant containers to keep them clean.

When wash water is used on landscaping, the homeowner must take care that the water does not contain bleach or other laundry products that could harm plants. Water from washing diapers or infectious material must go into the sewer line. The diversion valve should be clearly marked so that anyone using the washing machine (housesitters, relatives) knows how it works and what products can and cannot be used. Many installers are happy to supply a list of safe laundry products. Not all products labeled as “green” are appropriate to use on landscaping, so it is wise to check the ingredients. For example, sodium-based products should not be put on plants.

Marine Sanctuary Center
  Pat Dellin holds a plum she has just picked.. Photo: Debbie Bulger

During the rainy season when the ground may be saturated, less water would be diverted to the landscape, since graywater can’t be stored for more than 24 hours. The system must be designed correctly so water doesn’t pool and attract mosquitoes. Graywater can’t be used in a sprinkler or sprayed but can be used in drip irrigation if filtered.

Laundry-to-landscape systems can be installed in a day. LeAnne received her training through the Green Gardener Certification program which was the recipient of Stimulus Funds from the Federal Government. The grant was to provide graywater training to landscape and plumbing professionals in Monterey and Santa Cruz Counties. The Green Gardner Graywater Training Program in Santa Cruz is a partnership between the Santa Cruz County Workforce Investment Board, Cabrillo College, the Watsonville Adult School, and Ecology Action.

Graywater is defined by the State of California as all sink, shower, bath, and laundry water. Kitchen, dishwasher, and toilet water are considered to be “black” water and cannot be used in the yard. Reusing graywater reduces the demand for drinkable water and contributes to water conservation.

Using graywater can help you achieve a “water neutral garden.” It is an important component along with drip irrigation, native and drought tolerant plants, and rainwater harvesting. The Soquel Creek Water District started offering rebates for graywater installation on July 1 of this year. To date other local jurisdictions have not followed suit.

For detailed information for both Monterey and Santa Cruz residents including how to obtain a permit, if needed, and what to expect from a professional graywater consultation, check the Ecology Action website,

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