Graywater Systems Conserves Water

Water, Water, Everywhere, But After hitting this weekend’s BALLE conference (Business Alliance for Local living Economies) at UC Berkeley, there was a question that came up during the Sustainable Cities panel I was on regarding how to implement graywater systems. Graywater is the leftover “dirty water” from clothes washers, sinks and showers. It is not used toilet water, otherwise known as “blackwater.”

I answered how I’ve installed one at our home using water from the washer that flows through a plastic tube out to our lawn and fruit trees via gravity.

Mayor Tom Bates of Berkeley responded that people should “shower with a friend” to conserve water and use a bucket under their shower.

These were not the right answers. The best response would have been to point out innovative cities such as Santa Monica, California that are issuing advice and permits for graywater systems.

Water scarcity is going to be one of the largest bugaboos facing local government as global climate change causes more frequent droughts. Water use will also will be major a contributor to global climate change until we can better figure out how to conserve it. In California, for instance, water pumping is the largest single use of energy in the state, accounting for significant carbon emissions.

So any way in which graywater can be used more commonly through city codes in simple systems not requiring lots of fancy pipes, pumps and materials, will be significant advance over the current practices.

Mayor Bates also reported on a more than 8 percent in carbon emissions reduction in Berkeley from 2000-2005, most of which came from increased walking and cycling: the city has one of the highest non-carbon transportation rates in the nation for any city, with about 18 percent riding or walking to work. The only US community I know of with more than that is Burlington, Vermont, with a non-carbon commute transit rate of between 19-20 percent.

All in all the BALLE event, with appearances by Paul Hawken, co-founder Judy Wicks, and organizational muse David Korten, was an amazing web of networking, presentations, workshops and local tours. Last year the event was held in Burlington–it was inspiring to get a taste of 600 North American small and green business representatives from all over the US and Canada in the Bay Area, and to visit with old friends and mentors.