When you use greywater, you can turn the drudgery of household chores into gardening. My husband and I joke about doing dishes: “Whose turn is it to water the pomegranate?” I love hearing the sound of dishwater draining and knowing it’s going outside to our garden.
We wash our dirty laundry in batches in the morning or evening hours—the best time to irrigate our fruit grove filled with Kino Heritage figs and pomegranates, peaches, and grapes. In the winter when some of the trees are dormant, the greywater grows gorgeous Sonoran wheat.
Summer showers are my favorite—I bathe in my outdoor shower while enjoying the beauty of a huge Meyer lemon tree that is soaking up all my bath water. Added bonus—this outdoor shower doesn’t need to be scrubbed clean.
By harvesting greywater to grow food, I am conserving our most precious resource and saving money on my water bill.
You can start using greywater in your garden today. Here are three simple ways to begin using materials around your house or simple parts from a hardware store—all for less than $50.
Use wash basins that fit in your sink for washing and rinsing dishes. Put a bucket in the shower to catch the extra water. Then carry the basin or bucket outside to water fruit trees, native edibles like wolfberries, or veggies where edible parts don’t touch the soil (or greywater). For best results, apply greywater to areas with organic mulch. It will absorb more quickly and reduce evaporation.
The easiest way to harvest greywater from your shower is to move your shower outside. All you need is a hose and a hose attachment with a shower head. Start by throwing the hose over a tree branch, fence, or trellis. Locate your shower near a fruit tree or native food-bearing plant like mesquite. Get creative with a privacy structure using recycled materials around your home. Again, organic mulch is essential—make sure to put down plenty around your outdoor shower and tree. No need for plumbing. The water will soak into the soil, and the roots of the nearby tree will tap into this new irrigation source.
Though not technically greywater, both air conditioners and evaporative coolers produce water as a waste product that is safe to use in your garden. You can hook up a simple hose or PVC pipe and run the line to your garden. Direct the water to a basin with mulch to support any food-growing plants that need regular water throughout the hot season.
None of these systems require a permit, and most of the more complex residential greywater systems require only that you follow the best practices outlined by the Arizona Department of Environmental Quality. Learn more at harvestingrainwater.com/greywater-harvesting.
Before you turn that wash water into garden irrigation, pay attention to your cleaning products. The right soap products can become a fertilizer instead of a problem. First, make sure your soap doesn’t have any sodium-based ingredients—we don’t want salt to accumulate in our soil. Then make sure it is biodegradable and doesn’t contain harsh ingredients like bleach or borax.
If you want to upgrade to automated systems, you can get help from contractors and educational classes. Watershed Management Group offers a wide variety of greywater workshops and helps people install laundry, bathroom, and kitchen greywater systems. Visit watershedmg.org. Your water utility may also offer a rebate. For example, Tucson Water rebates its customers up to $1,000 on greywater systems. Visit tucsonaz.gov/water/gray-water.
Lisa Shipek is the executive director of Watershed Management Group, an educational organization helping people make small changes in their lives to collectively improve community health.