Gray Water: From Laundry to Landscape

In 2009, it became fully legal in the entire state of California to divert your washing machine to your garden.


Isabelle Duvivier‘s LA home uses gray water to irrigate riparian trees that surround this rainwater-fed pond. Photography by Tom Story.

My heart goes out to ecological systems designer and author Art Ludwig. While many Californians are scrambling to meet the 25% water reduction mandate, Art’s been shouting from the rooftop for years: There are so many ways to save water. While he’s more a fan of a larger paradigm shift than a reductive lesson on a laundry-to-landscape hookup, I’m telling him it takes baby steps.

Long story short, after crafting a code compliance plan to help Santa Barbara residents comply with the city’s old, terrible state gray water code, Art became Santa Barbara’s agent in Sacramento to address gray water on a statewide level. And in 2009, it became fully legal for 40 million Californians to divert their washing machine to your garden. (One of our editors is experimenting with the technique.) Check your own state’s laws here.

Art developed the laundry-to-landscape system, which, in his words, is “the simplest, least expensive, lowest effort way to get the most gray water out on to the home landscape most effectively.”

The system takes full advantage of the washer’s pump to disperse water from the machine to your garden. You’ll divert 10 to 25 gallons of water per load for a horizontal-axis machine, or about 40 gallons per load for a vertical axis machine. So long as you use a biocompatible detergent, you can use the gray water from your machine to water ornamental plants or any fruit trees, including citrus.

The technique is being used everywhere. Numerous cities provide rebates, including Santa Clara Valley, San Francisco, Santa Barbara, Palo Alto, Los Gatos, Marin, Goleta, Soquel, SF East Bay, Santa Rosa, Thousand Oaks, Santa Cruz, Monterey, Carpenteria, and Mountain View.

The how-to DVD is available from Art’s website. Check out this excerpt below: