Think about the parts of your home where you can conserve water: there’s the shower, the sink, the toilet, and if you’ve got them, maybe a dishwasher or washing machine. You can reduce the amount of water you use, but what about reusing it? KALW’s Thea Chroman decided to learn how to reuse water spent on cleaning herself – and stuff – in a segment called D.I.Y.
THEA CHROMAN: I'm carrying a bucket full of water down the stairs, through the living room, out the door, down the front steps into the garden, and tossing it into the tomato patch. I’m trying to conserve water, but there has to be a better way. So I drove an hour and a half north, up to the Occidental Arts and Ecology Center to find out more about how the experts recycle their water. Brock Dolman who has worked at the center for over 25 years told me that the best place to start was behind the washing machine.
BROCK DOLMAN: Every washing machine, on the back of the washing machine has a little pipe that comes up and it has that little U-shaped thing, on the back. You can just cut that little "U" off and then right there you put a "T" on and we get a special valve called a three way valve.
T’s? U’s? Three way valves? I am already intimidated. But Dolman says it’s not very complicated, even for a total novice like me. And he shows me, just a couple valves, some tubing clasped together, all coming out of the washing machine, going through a hole in the wall.
DOLMAN: And it means that when one direction you open the valve, the water will flow through and you’ll plumb it and it will go to the municipal system like normal. Then you can switch the valve to the other side and that will go out to another pipe which will go to a network of basically subsurface irrigation basins...
Okay, this is cool. If you need to use bleach or some type of harsh soap on some clothes that are seriously dirty, you still can. You just flip the switch that takes the water to the municipal system where it will be treated. If you can use a gentler soap that doesn't have a lot of salts or phosphates, you can send it directly out to your garden. Dolman takes me to his garden, which is pretty much a farm, all irrigated by grey water.
DOLMAN: So like this guy here right, look at these fuzzy kiwis, see 'em? This whole thing is full of kiwis. And this a 25 year old kiwi vine, and there’s one there and one there...
They’re everywhere, and each is feed by a tube coming from the house. At the base of each vine a valve feeds into a hole filled with wood chips. As the washing machine drains, the hole fills with water, which slowly absorbs into the ground. But what if I don’t have an orchard, or a garden, or for that matter a washing machine? Not to worry, Dolman assures me. There are plenty of other ways to recycle water, like catching rain off your roof.
DOLMAN: So, the formula that people need to know for the do-it-yourselfers out there, is that for every 100 square feet of roof, for every inch of rain that falls on the roof, you get 60 gallons...
Dolman takes me to a cabin on the other side of the garden. He points out a gutter attached to a PVC pipe, which leads to a tank with a spout.
DOLMAN: So here we’ll just open up the valve.
Occidental has just had its first rain, so Dolman is draining the tank to clean it out. After he’s done, each drop of rain that falls on that roof will be used for irrigation, and once it’s filtered, for indoor needs like baths, showers, or washing dishes as well.
DOLMAN: The roof is just a regular roof, the gutter’s a regular gutter, the screen over the gutter is regular, and the plumbing as far as the downspout and how you reorient it can just be regular stuff so at this point we’ve done nothing different than what many people already have.
CHROMAN: That was a lot of water.
DOLMAN: That was a bunch of water there right?
Dolman says the only major expense is the tank to store the water. And there are ways to get around that too.
DOLMAN: You can go, in urban areas especially, and go to places where they have these 55-gallon plastic pickle barrels. And I’ve known people who just string together 55-gallon drums along the back of the house and get it all for free except for the plumbing you have to buy, and end up with 300 to 600 gallons of water stored in a series of 55-gallon drums.
Dolman points out that water supplies are dwindling ,and if this year is dry as well we’re all set for some hard times. Better to harvest water off your roof, than sacrifice your daily shower.
For Crosscurrents, I’m Thea Chroman in Occidental.
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This story originally aired on October 27, 2009.