grey water goddess

i live in a temperate rain forest climate, and so i have been reminded when i have mentioned my slightly fanatical water conservation obsession. i think the argument coming from these ridiculing parties, is that i don’t need to conserve water when there is water everywhere around me. yet, i know for a fact the reservoir that serves this town has been at a lower level each of the three years i’ve lived in this town. furthermore, and closer to my core values, just because it’s plentiful, does that mean i should mindlessly use it without consideration for conservation?

i thought not. one final motivation could of course be to reduce my water bill. which i have, though again, water is perceived to be cheap here, and i doubt that this alone would motivate someone to be as freakish about reducing water use and reclaiming grey water for subsequent reuse, as i have become (it’s lowest on my list of priorities as far as motivation). i’m not sure if this is the case everywhere, but on our water bills in newport, our meters apparently measure, not in gallons, not in hundreds of gallons, but in thousands of gallons. at my previous residence, where the landlord requested that i water the landscaping, i would routinely use 2000 and at times up to 4000 gallons of water use per month. this still pales in comparison to some quoted national averages, which list 350 gallons per day in any given household- that comes to over 10,000 gallons per month. other estimates are lower, around 1-200 gallons per day. i was also washing cloth diapers, but that house is where i first started carrying buckets of bath water from the bath tub and filling the wash cycle of the washing machine with it. so began a process of increasing mindfulness for my water consumption.

i got my first “zero” thousands of gallons water bill in november 2010. it’s fuzzy, but it reads, “consumption: 0.00 Thousands of Ga.”

that was when i adopted code name grey water goddess, and by this point it had become a game. right around that time, i actually had my washing machine break, so technically i have been cheating, and washing my clothes and diapers at the laundromat. in fact, i was using more water for laundry than usual briefly, since i wasn’t using secondhand bathwater for the wash cycle. alas! (now we’re done diapering so our laundry is dramatically reduced, regardless of the laundromat piece of the puzzle.) anyway, this doesn’t mean i use zero water, probably it was 900 gallons or 999, meaning our household is still using roughly 30 gallons per day. but the meter did not tick one point that month, and i got to pay the baseline $33.90 for water that month (nope, not $0, sadly). if it had ticked to 1000 gallons of water, it would have cost $38.10 so wheee i saved $4.20.

but have you seen the size of our luxury bathtub? lest you think we are depriving ourselves… and this picture is not nearly as full as we usually fill it- we’re talking 6 foot tall grey water goddess mama fully submerged, including kneecaps.

after he painted himself blue one time...

by leaving the water in the tub, rather than immediately draining it, i imagine we are also offsetting our heating needs by some small fraction (the heat comes out of the water slowly as it cools). then we use almost all of the water for laundry, toilet flushing (simply refill the tank by bucket after pushing the flush handle), and watering our garden. and other random things, like watering house plants and washing the bathroom sink and floor. the setup of one’s house is key for how to make use of your grey water, and every house is different so every solution will be different, too. in my case, i graduated from bucketing bath water through 3 rooms and down three steps to the washer in my old garage (would not have been sustainable in the long term), to bucketing it to the washer directly adjacent to the bathroom in this house (easy), and sending it down to the garden via siphoning (effortless). i have a (free from a dumpster pile) hose hanging from my second-story bathroom window, which i prime (a 15 second process) using a funnel and then walk away from as it sucks the tub nearly empty, and i go outside and show it where to go. (quinn adores this job, my pisces water child.)

truth be told, we don’t even need to water our garden much in our climate, and i didn’t run the hose directly from a faucet at all in 2010 for our garden. bath water suffices, in fact it is likely more than enough, but i bet the spruce tree shading out my garden appreciates the overkill. i sometimes let the water sit in the tub if it’s already a rainy day, and we don’t need the tub again for a few days to wash ourselves (reduce always being the first step in water conservation- we only bathe a couple of times per week.) chances are, the next day will be dryer and i’ll feel like watering. however, i don’t let it sit in the tub for longer than a day, because it would eventually gather bacterial-growing momentum, given that we use all natural soap and not much of it (another important thing to note, if intending to use bathwater for gardening: consider what soap and shampoo you use!).

i don’t think i am especially good at reducing water use while i wash dishes- i don’t fill basins, though i would if my sink was big enough to accommodate them. i run water both to wash and rinse, though i do turn it off religiously in between. let me tell you, i would use a dishwasher if i had one (and ideally, have it drain into a grey water reclamation pond in my yard complete with cattails and bulrushes), because that time could be just as well spent helping me achieve other ideals, and i would happily trade in dish washing and go construct that bean tipi i want to make with quinn. i do absentmindedly capture rinse water to rinse/soak dirtier items, so by the time i’m sponging them with soap, they are mostly cleared of major grime. i also will catch some of the dish washing water (in whatever soup pot happens to be catching it in the sink) and toss that outside, rather than down the drain. (did you know in many places, your water bill charges not only for water into your household, but also water out? so even in the winter time, i “water my garden,” figuring i’m building the local water table, rather than sending it to the sewer. i have yet to figure out the sewer charges on my bill, usually it is a flat rate, though it has changed a lot over the past 3 years, and didn’t appear on my zero bill- in fact that seems to be where i saved most of that four bucks.)

someday i’d like to be obtaining all of my water from a natural spring and collecting rainwater, and deal with all of my grey water on site in a mini-wetlands, which by definition is what is meant by “off the grid” when it comes to water. but the point of this post is that you can do a lot, right where you are. even if, like me, you are renting or in other ways at the mercy of extenuating circumstances. i am not at liberty to re-plumb my drains, disconnect my downspouts, install a composting toilet, or build my grey water restoration wetlands pond garden, but there is always something more i can do.

i mean, using perfectly good clean drinking water to flush poop and pee when peak water is such a current issue? wikipedia says that 31% of domestic water use indoors is for toilet flushing. what is that all about? water for drinking doesn’t even make the statistics, it’s less than 1%.

are you a grey water goddess? what are your water conservation methods? got any ideas for taking it up a notch?

7 comments to grey water goddess

  • It's outrageous that we use drinking water to flush toilets. We like the idea of a composting toilet when we have a place of our own in the hopefully not too distant future.

    Having grown up during a drought in a drought-prone land, it's inconceivable to me to use anything BUT grey water on the garden. It feels wrong to just let the bath water drain away now since the soil is so water-logged at the moment.
    tinsenpup recently posted..Mix Tape – Cloud Factory – The Clouds

  • I don't think I could take it up a notch from you! I found you at Mama Om/Bluesky. You've certainly given me a new way to think about water, and, living in a more desert climate, water is one of our core issues. Good on you.

    • marybethrew

      welcome rebecca! (wow what a beautiful blog you have!) i think maybe i worded that question poorly at the end- i definitely wasn't intending to make it a competition, but just to get peoples' ideas flowing for what can be done from right where they are, at home. they being you. 🙂 i hope that makes sense! glad it gave you some food for thought.

  • You are awesome. Love the 2nd story hose action.

    We had a grey water system for awhile in our house, everything draining out to a hose that we used to water fruit trees. But the buildup of gunk in the bucket in our crawlspace (through which everything flowed) got to be horrendously foul and Dan said "no more." Maybe we made it too complicated and really, we should just throw a hose out the window…
    6512 and growing recently posted..Homestead happenings- full

    • marybethrew

      one of the most amazing things on permaculture forums, is how much energy people are willing to put into coming up with really intricate solutions to things like grey water design. so often there is a really easy answer that doesn't involve a degree in engineering. then there are a lot of permaculture people who are into it almost because things are meant to be easy. i'm more on the total hack side of the continuum. 😉 i doubt my neighbors love my hose hanging out my window, so there is that. and i didn't ask my city if i'm up to code or anything either, which would be wise i'm sure for anyone actually owning a home.

  • our biggies are: minimizing toilet flushing, and at this time of the year we can get away with having the boys (and sometimes me) go outside. It's a farm– lots of places to hide 🙂 So we use the toilet repeatedly for pees, and then flush. And bowel movements are flushed right away. I wasah dishes alot like you. I could totally picture what you described. I do water at the wrong times of days though, need to work on that one.I need to shift my thinking here, too likely. Our landowner suggests to use all of the water we want because our well is an artesian well…water sourced from Mt Baker underground…but it still seems selfish. Lots for me to consider here, mary beth 🙂

  • jumped over from Plastic Free Life and so glad I did. love this post! I capture water from the shower as it heats up in order to water plants with, but I've been wondering how to flush the toidy with such water. thanks!
    Dmarie recently posted..Always been there makes unused stuff invisible!

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