Friday, October 29, 2010

Greywater scores high marks

After experimenting with solar panels, gray-water systems and chickens for two years, a budget-minded consumer takes stock of what worked and what didn't.

Read the full story in the LATimes


Gray water, 1st place

Gray water is the waste generated from faucets, showers and laundry machines — water that accounts for 54.2% of all water used inside a home, according to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency. With California deep into a drought, in August 2008 I retrofitted the plumbing on my laundry machine to send its gray water onto my landscape. Over the last two years, that simple switch has sent 9,720 gallons to passion fruit vines instead of the sewer, and it required only one change to my usual routine. I had to swap laundry detergents because my usual brand, like many, contained salt and other ingredients that kill plants.

When I first installed a gray-water system, it wasn't legal. Making it legal would have required a permit, extensive filtering apparatus and lots of cash. But in August 2009, these laundry-to-landscape systems were legalized in California, as long as homeowners followed 12 guidelines.

I've been so pleased with this low-cost, high-impact system that I hired a plumber to expand it in January, tying the wastewater from my bathtub, shower and bathroom sink into the same gravity-fed plumbing line that handles my laundry water. This so-called simple system also was legalized in California in 2009. Its legal status has since been rescinded, so once again I've gone rogue. I estimate my additional savings to be roughly 1,120 gallons per month.

Financially, this system is paying for itself, just slowly. The Los Angeles Department of Water and Power charges me less than half a penny per gallon, so technically, gray water has saved me only $95 in water costs so far. But it's also reduced my sewer charge by about one-third, saving me an extra $3.30 per month. In drought-prone Southern California, gray water feels like the right thing to do. It's been the easiest, most sensible, hassle-free, sustainable system I've put in place at my house.

Cost: $1,988 ($312 for the laundry-to-landscape plumbing, $1,676 for bathtub and bathroom sink tie-in)

Resources: Greywater Action,; Oasis Design,

Friday, October 22, 2010

Arctic Report Card

Thursday, October 21, 2010

New York Times: Lake Mead Hits Record Low

Sometimes a picture is worth a thousand words and the photo from a recent New York Times blog article says everything about our water crisis.

The article begins:
"Sometime between 11 and noon on Sunday, the water level in Lake Mead, the massive reservoir whose water fills the taps of millions of people across the Southwest, fell lower than it ever has since it was filled 75 years ago."
Lake Mead is the largest resorvoir in the Unites States and while it is still 8 feet (a whole 8 feet!) above the levels where a shortage is officially declared, if the levels drop too low not only will our water supply be dangerously low but it could also effect the hydroelectric output of Hoover Dam.

Comments on the article range from blaming climate change and evaporation to blaming our wasteful building practices in the Southwest.  Either way there is one obvious conclusion:  we need to start getting serious about water conservation in the Southwest!

There are tons of tips for conserving water at home whether you own or rent and while conserving household water use is a huge help to our water supplies we should also remember that 70% of the average household's water use in the Southwest goes toward irrigating our landscapes (lawn and tropical gardens).  In order to become truly sustainable we need to change the way we look at water use both inside and outside the home.

Friday, October 15, 2010

Rain Barrels Work!

For a year, San Diego city officials collected storm water in 24 rain barrels in eight sites across the city to analyze their effectiveness in reducing runoff and harvesting water.

They found that the rain barrels significantly reduced the flow of pollutants to storm drains as they redirected rain to landscaped areas.

San Diego is in the early stages of studying programs like a successful rain barrel program in Los Angeles to learn best practices to reduce runoff to watersheds. San Diego also is looking at rain gardens and other methods of "rainwater redirection."

Read more and also read the rain barrel pilot study report.

Tuesday, October 12, 2010

San Diego Edges Closer to a Dependable Local Water Supply

Yesterday the San Diego Union Tribune ran a feature Future wellspring? - New source of drinking water hinges on pilot project and City Council.

The article contains a great graphic showing the multiple levels of treatment that would be included in the project.

The process starts with wastewater that has already has been treated to levels deemed acceptable for use on landscaping. Then it’s pumped through a microfiltration process that removes bacteria, protozoa and suspended particles. The water then is them pumped reverse osmosis membranes to remove dissolved impurities. Finally, the twice-filtered water is exposed to UV light and hydrogen peroxide in a process known as "advanced oxidation." The pilot plant that will produce about 1 million gallons per day is expected to be in operation by April.

This is essentially the same process being used in Orange County to produce 70 million gallons per day of high quality drinking water - and reduce wastewater discharges to the ocean.

Monday, October 4, 2010

New York City Green Infrastructure Plan

NYC's New Green Infrastructure Plan

Submitted by Richard Jarman on Thu, 2010-09-30 10:34.

In a boost to the City's harbor water quality Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg, Environmental Protection Commissioner Cas Holloway and Office of Long Term Planning and Sustainability Director David Bragdon have unveiled the NYC Green Infrastructure Plan, which aims to capture and retain stormwater runoff before it enters the sewer system.

The current system discharges a mix of stormwater and sewage directly into New York Harbor during heavy storms due to its limited capacity. Traditional remedies which include upgrading holding tanks and tunnels are very expensive and have limited benefits.

Under the new proposals, which will require approval from the state and federal government, a mix of technologies and solutions will be implemented to not only reduce water contamination so that more waterways can be made available for recreation, but also green and cool the city and improve air quality.

Green infrastructure uses vegetation, soils, and other structural elements to mimic natural hydrologic cycles by slowing down, absorbing, and evaporating stormwater. The new plan is estimated to reduce the city's long-term sewer management costs by $2.4 billion over the next 20 years, helping to hold down future water bills.

"One of the most challenging environmental questions facing New York City is how best to clean up our waterways," said Marcia Bystryn, president of the New York League of Conservation Voters. "The NYC Green Infrastructure Plan is a comprehensive response that will reduce pollution, protect critical habitat and make investments where they will have the greatest impact. We applaud Mayor Bloomberg, Commissioner Holloway, Deputy Commissioner Strickland and everyone involved for this important step toward a more sustainable city."

Other related news stories below.

Global Water Crisis

A study in Nature reports that nearly 80 percent of the world’s population lives in areas where the fresh water supply isn’t secure. And while industrialized nations have made massive investments in infrastructure to keep the faucets flowing, those projects have taken a toll on the environment.