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Tuesday, March 18, 2014

Question of the Week

This is a good opportunity to do some simple math that can help you understand how useful a greywater system can be for you and how changing your landscaping can help much more substantially!

My last water bill used 46 HCF for 61 days.  If we could skim at least 22 HCF off per cycle, that would keep me in the bottom two price ranges (tiers).

…We do about 10 HE laundry loads per week.  Would just setting up grey water from the washer be enough to cover those 22 HCF

The answer to this is twofold.  First of all, a high efficiency washing machine uses about 10 gallons per load these days.  So 10 loads would equal 100 gallons per week.  That adds up to 400 gallons per month.  You could be watering 3-4 mature fruit trees with that water!

On the other hand, 1 HCF (hundred cubic feet) is 748 gallons.  So you would only chip into your water use by just over 1/2 HCF a month which isn't really going to make a dent in your water bill!

Now, if you consider lawn (the biggest water user in our landscape), which can't really be watered with this greywater without substantial investment in pumps, filters, and specialized irrigation ($5K +), you'll find that 500 square feet of lawn uses 13,000 gallons of water a year.  That's over 1K gallons a month, which is about 1.5HCF.

So getting rid of just this much of your lawn (which is free if you sheet mulch it) will save you 3 times the amount of water the above greywater system ($600-$800) will save you.

The key point here is to start with a good landscape design.  Know what you absolutely want in your yard.  And put the elements in efficient relationship to each other and to water sources.  Things that are going to be using shower greywater will rely on gravity and need to be placed downhill from the shower.  Things that are going to be using laundry greywater can be higher because of the pump on the washing machine.  And make sure there's places that can catch water falling off the roof in a rainfall and allow it to absorb in!  That's free water!

There's so much more to it than this.  This is why consulting with an expert can save you a lot of money and time in the end.  Before you implement an expensive system, reducing your consumption and efficient placement will get you off to a better start!

For more information, call or email me for a consultation or contact my friends Kevin and Christopher from Savanna Agriculture to get a design for your space with edible and water efficient landscaping.

Wednesday, February 19, 2014

Upcoming Events

15 - Water Harvesting Open House

This is your opportunity to get up close and personal with very simple and productive water harvesting features such as rainwater tanks and greywater systems. We'll take you on a tour and explain the many aspects of rainwater tanks, Laundry-to-Landscape Systems, and a shower greywater system including materials, costs, do's and don'ts, rebates, and permitting.

22 - Master Gardeners Spring Seminar

This is the Annual Master Gardeners Spring Seminar. It's a great opportunity to take a wide range of class offerings covering all things plant and garden. I'll be discussing rainwater harvesting from 10:30 - 12 and look forward to seeing you there!

29 - Greywater Installation Workshop

This hands-on workshop will teach and inspire participants to install their own “Laundry to Landscape” greywater system. Learn how easy it is to use the washing machine to irrigate fruit trees and more with this cheap, easy, and permit-free legal method of greywater reuse. By the end of the day, participants will be able to design and install their own laundry to landscape greywater system with confidence. Cut down your water bill and grow an ecological and food producing garden. This class includes many handouts related to greywater design to help you further setup up your own system.

Saturday, February 8, 2014

Food Water Connection

Most of you know that I do consultations as well as installation.  One of the best parts of my job is connecting people to resources.  I certainly don't claim to be able to do everything.  But I know some amazing people and resources in our community that I'd like you to know about too. 

We all know water is precious.  The other basis for human sustenance is food.  We all know it takes water to grow food, but what we may not realize is that food grown outside of our community takes far more water than food grown here locally.  The additional water costs are related to transportation/petroleum energy as well as crops grown in places they shouldn't be (like lettuce in the Imperial Valley) but due to water allocations and special pricing for agriculture, it can be justified for the price points you see at the store.  

If you really want to conserve water, besides planting yards that use only onsite water, if you can harvest additional water supplies (like rain from your roof in tanks, or greywater from your showers and laundry) you should grow food.  Then these technologies which are generally expensive and have 5+ years ROI minimum become more viable because you are generating additional cost savings, by decreasing your spending at the grocery store. 

Now to the resources:
1.  You want to redesign your space to grow food.  About half the time I go out to a consultation, what you want to do is grow food.  Logically you want to "plant the water" first.  But aren't sure what you want to grow with it.  This is a great time to call Kevin and Christopher with Savannah Agriculture.  They can develop a plan for growing a combination of drought tolerant, local, native, and edible plantings according to all your water resources.  Kevin Muno <kevin@savannaag.com>

2.  You want to grow veggies in your yard.  You'd rather not start slow and spend time and energy trying a bunch of techniques that might not work.  You might not have time and energy to do a great job but you have the space.  You should connect with Mia from Good Neighbor Gardens She has a backyard CSA program that provides ongoing maintenance and harvests from your yard combining your abundance with other yards in the community to create a wonderful biweekly box of veggies/fruits/ and other yummies.  AMAZING!  Why hasn't anyone thought of this before?!   

3.  You want to learn everything you can about growing your own food and holistic design.  Have you heard about the San Diego Sustainable Living Institute?  Have you heard about Permaculture?   I can guarantee after this class, you will see the world through different eyes.  You will have tools and resources you need, as well as having made connections with other like-minded people here in San Diego to be able to work towards designing your space and maybe creating a career combining forces with others to create change in our community.  

4.  You want to meet these people and be inspired by a functional local non-profit farm!  Check out the Kale Festival coming up Saturday, February 22 at the San Diego Peace Garden in City Heights.  And if you love the Peace Garden you can come help out and learn all about growing food on Wednesday mornings!

5.  You want another chance to meet these people, AND see water harvesting in action in the form of 2 x 500 gallon tanks, shower greywater, and laundry greywater in a highly productive and beautiful garden.  On March 15th, we will open a charming yard in South Park where you will be able to meet all the people above as well as see these water harvesting features.  We will have someone from the Water Conservation Department on hand to discuss the current rebate programs.  And I will give a tour demonstrating all the features and describing all the costs associated with the different water harvesting elements.   You can find more information at http://www.h2o-me.com  and RSVP at www.sdsustainable.org

6.  If you want to learn to install a greywater system yourself, check out our upcoming Greywater workshop on March 29.  http://sdsustainable.org/event/laundry-to-landscape-greywater/

7.  Here's some other local edible landscapers you might want to check out:
and a drought tolerant/native landscaper

Keep on Growing!
Brook Sarson
Smart Water Savings

Tuesday, January 21, 2014

Where is the Rain?

I know I'm not the only one who has finally gotten to the point where this beautiful San Diego weather is actually feeling quite ominous.  The politicians are using the word "drought" to secure funding for water projects of all shapes and sizes.  You can read the various articles linked in this paragraph to see several different takes on what the drought means to us at home and at the state level.  Meanwhile, I argue that we all have a responsibility to our community to ensure adequate local water resources.  Don't wait for politicians and agencies to satisfy your water needs.  Please, please do reduce your water consumption.  Also consider storing water onsite in the guise as rainwater.  Also consider watering your thirsty plants with your gently used shower or laundry water in the guise of greywater!

Consider this:  There are over 290,000 single family homes in San Diego City alone.  If each of those homes put in 500 gallons of rainwater storage (4' diameter tank, $400 rebate from the city, $75 rebate from the county), we would have almost 15,000,000 gallons of local water onhand.   Relative to total water use this is just a drop in the bucket, but considering the multilayered cost of 15,000,000 gallons from our existing sources (environmental, economic, sustainable, disaster proof) this is a significant step we can all take to be part of the solution.

Here is a link for City Rain Barrel Rebates

Here is a link for County Rain Barrel Rebates

Also consider that a typical 4 person household with a newer, efficient washing machine, washing 4 loads a week produces 40 gallons a week, which equates to over 2000 gallons for the year.  Do you do more or less than this?  Is your washing machine old?  If so, you may be producing 50 gallons per load!   To put in a greywater system to water your trees, shrubs, and vines with this water can cost as little as $250 (DIY)  and usually not more than $750 (installed).   Wow!  2000 gallons for every washing machine in San Diego to ensure that we have trees and shrubs and vines that can feed us or at least reduce the scorching heat island effect by softening the sun's reflective potential.  It's worth it San Diego.  

What's really cool is that the Sweetwater Authority is giving $75 rebates for greywater systems in their region!! 

When can we have that from San Diego City?  And all the other parts of the County?

And that's certainly not all you can do.  Check out the following events and classes to learn more about reducing water consumption and living within our water budget.  Do it for yourself, and for your community!

  • This Saturday, January 25 at the Museum of Natural History in Balboa Park from 10-2, join me and a ton of other water related experts while we showcase strategies, technologies, and complexities related to water in Southern California
  • Take a Permaculture Class with the San Diego Sustainable Living Institute in May.  Learn more about creating a holistic design for your home, garden, community including choosing water strategies and plant pallets that are appropriate for our spaces. 
  • While you are at it, check out the Great Greywater Challenge.  Donate, offer your home as a workshop site, put your greywater system on the map.
  • For those of you further north, check out the Ecology Center in San Juan Capistrano!  It's an amazing education resource for sustainability.  With a number of classes including water harvesting, natural food prep, and backyard gardening, to it's Eco-Apprenticeship Program, and it's onsite store it's a wealth of information and resources.

Tuesday, November 27, 2012

Perspective: Rainwater vs Greywater in San Diego

Prepare yourself for some wild numbers!

Check this out San Diego!  You want to see a crazy cost comparison?  Assume that you have a 2000 square foot house.   Not crazy big for SD.  At 600 gallons/1000 square foot/inch of rain, this looks like 12000 gallons of rainwater coming off your roof for the year.  Assume you wanted to store most of it, and you have room for 9000 gallons of storage on your property (above ground, round plastic tanks are cheapest).  You may want all the water to keep your 500 square foot lawn green (which wouldn't quite be enough anyway) or maybe you have a thriving food forest which is providing you with high quality organic food (that sounds delicious!)

If you add up all the $$ it's going to cost to install 9000 plus gallons of rainwater storage, it will be in excess of $10,000. If you want to tie it into a pump and feed it into the irrigation system that will add another $2000 or so.
That comes out to over $1/gallon.  

Now let's look at shower greywater for a four person household:

Mom showers 15 minutes a day (are they using low flow showerheads (2gallons/minute)?) = 30 gallons/day
Dad showers 5 minutes a day = 10 gallons/day
2 kids at 20 minutes a day  = 80 gallons/day
Total = 120 gallons/day x 365 gallons for the year = 44,000 gallons +/- for the year

If you are installing a permitted system for 2 showers to gravity flow into mulch basins on your property, this could add up to maybe $5K, on the high side.  Note, you don't want to use this on your lawn!

That comes out to $0.11/gallon

Now if you want to compare that with water coming out of your tap.  If you look at your water bill, you are charged per HCF (1 Hundred Cubic Feet = 748).  Depending on which tier you are in and what city you live in  this could be about $3-6/1HCF which adds up to about to between $0.0004 and $0.0008 per gallon.

Water is cheap San Diego.  But everything comes at a cost!  There's tons of literature about the cost of bringing water to San Diego from hundreds of miles away from the Colorado River and from the Delta up in Northern California.  Make an informed decision.

Friday, October 26, 2012

Greywater: A Simple and Effective Resource for Water Starved San Diego

Greywater is water that comes from showers, sinks, and laundry before it combines with toilet water.  Kitchen sink water is blackwater in California.  Many people are nervous about using greywater for fear of contamination and the ick-factor.  Greywater use is not only common but legal and encouraged by public utilities all over Arizona, New Mexico, Australia, and many other parts of the world.  There are over a million users in California alone, and no instance of anyone getting sick from greywater use.

A UCLA report, titled "Graywater: A Potential Source of Water," estimated that if 10% of Southern Californians implemented graywater systems for their laundry, showers, dishwashers and faucets, "the potable water savings would be equivalent to, or larger than, the capacity of a modern, large seawater desalination plant such as those proposed for California."  That’s exciting news for taxpayers!

Last year, San Diego experienced a massive power outage.  Millions of gallons of sewage spilled into the Los Penasquitos Lagoon and the Sweetwater River due to lack of backup power at the sewage treatment plant.  It is clearer than ever that homescale greywater use has its place in our communities.  If each residence around San Diego, and beyond, had laundry and shower greywater systems in place, we could reduced the amount of water being sent from each home to the sewage treatment plant by half. This is a small investment in infrastructure compared to the grand scale of municipal water treatment.

The landscape is designed to capture and treat this slightly used water in the soil, with mulch basins and plants providing high levels of microbial activity which bioremediate any solids or pathogens in the water. This compared to high volumes of water with added solids and pathogens from toilets spilling out directly into our waterways?

Greywater regulations changed in California in 2009 to allow simple Laundry-to-Landscape systems with no permit required, and simple shower systems with specific requirements and a permit.  A simple Laundry greywater system can cost as little as $150 in parts if you do it yourself or as little as $500 if you have a professional install it.  With the potential for producing a couple thousands of gallons of nutrient rich reused water, this is a great investment!  Shower systems can be more complex, especially if you are on a slab, or your bathroom is upstairs.  You may have to hire a plumber well versed in greywater to install your 3-way valve and a landscaper well versed in water conservation, or a water harvesting professional.  The simplest shower greywater systems may cost as little as $600-$800 depending on a multitude of factors including if you have a crawlspace, what kind of slope you have in your yard, how much water is being managed.
A basin designed to collect the water from the
Laundry Machine at the drip line of the tree.
This basin will be filled with mulch.

Many people think of storing greywater and using it in existing irrigation systems, but this is a far more expensive and complex setup than most people need, involving pumps and filters.  A gravity fed system is efficient and cost effective.

Most anyone can implement a Laundry greywater system if their laundry room is on an outside wall, or in an outside building.  By adding a three-way diverter valve to your washing machine hose, you can control whether to send your laundry water out to your yard or down to the sewer.  This is important for instances where you may use bleach or have some other toxic chemicals in your laundry or it has been raining substantially and your yard is saturated, for example.

By keeping the water in a 1” line, you keep pressure from your washing machine pump, allowing you to take the water slightly uphill or over longer sections of garden, and do not constrict the pump flow causing burn out.  From here, you can simply pop a hole in your outside wall and bury your line out to your trees or shrubs.  You can put in as many branches as you need, adding ball valves to control the flow to specific locations. 

It is important to calculate your water budget, which is affected by what kind of machine you have (10-50 gallons) and how many loads a week you do.  Then you can take into account what landscaping you are watering and how much water it will need in an average week.  This way you do not spread the water too thin, or overwater your plants. 

It is also important to use your water on plants that will respond favorably to this slightly more alkaline and saline water supply.  Typically lawn is not ideal since there are potential pathogens in this water and, when a lawn is used for recreation for pets or people, they may come into contact with these pathogens.  You should not water root or leafy green vegetables with this water for the same reason.  Fruit or other trees as well as shrubs are ideal.  Some natives are sensitive to salty soils and may not appreciate this water.  If you are not sure, ask at your local nursery, or contact a water harvesting professional.

Which soap you use matters.  Check out the ingredients and avoid anything with sodium in any form.  Usually powders have a sodium base.  Avoid borax as well.  Two sure bets are ECOS, available at Sprouts and Costco and Oasis, available at Peoples Co-op or online.

There are now more resources in San Diego than ever to create efficient and effective greywater systems.  Look for water harvesting workshops and tours especially with the San Diego Sustainable Living Institute, water harvesting professionals, articles and blogs.  The Olive Branch Green Building Supply has started stocking greywater materials and offering educational resources for greywater. 

Wednesday, September 19, 2012

Justifying Rainwater Collection: Calculating the True Cost of Cheap Water

The other day I got a question that I get all the time.  It is a good time to answer this question in a public forum, especially considering the rainy season is almost upon us.  We can all benefit from changing the way we think about our water resources.

Q:  In running the numbers for rain barrels, filling a 1500 gal barrel twice equals 3000 gal or 4 HCF. That's just under $15 (this is at tier 1 costs). which makes the payback for a $1500. system equal to 100 years. 

These numbers are hiding a lot of costs that we are not thinking of as we turn on our tap and let the water flow out at pennies per gallon.  What if we start to factor in some of these hidden costs?  What would our cost/benefit analysis look like?

First of all let's readjust our expectations of the costs involved in setting up a 1500 gallon tank.  You can get a 1500 gallon rainwater tank from The Tank Source, located in Alpine for about $600, plus about $100 for shipping.  This tank has about an 8' diameter, which is certainly doable for some but not all residents.  I think a 1000 gallon tank with a 6' diameter is a little more realistic for most urban homes here in SD, at a cost of about $600 plus $100 for shipping.  You can see that it is more cost effective to get the largest tank you can.  If you want to set this tank up yourself, you would need a couple filters at a cost of about $80.  You will need some pipes and parts, totaling between $100-250 depending on the distance you are taking the water from your house and a few other nuts and bolts.  This can look like as little as $800!  Or if you have a professional install this tank, you may expect to pay about $400-$500 in labor costs.  Now we are getting up to $1200-$1300.  But did you know that the City of San Diego is offering up to $200 in rebates for rainwater tanks?

Some of you may be wondering if it is even possible to get 1500 gallons of water off your roof in our arid climate.  The answer is ABSOLUTELY!  Check out this amazing rule of thumb and compare it to your situation:  A 1000 square foot roof will yield 600 gallons of water in only 1" of rain.  It rains about 10" here in San Diego.  So you can fill this tank up in less than a third of our rainy season, which means you may be able to fill it up THREE times even, if you can find something to use the water on in between rains.

Those are the basic nuts and bolts of this example system, but let's delve further into the cost of water. Consider that water in Southern California is excessively underpriced for its actual cost with regards to energy, environmental, and legal impact.  You can decide for yourself whether or not you think this is a true statement after we consider some additional information.  You could start by reading Cadillac Desert, by Marc Reisner to help you understand the intricacies of how and why our water infrastructure was built.  As we become confronted with the reality of the related costs associated with cheap water, prices will raise significantly, and any conservation tactics we have put in place before that time will greatly reduce our dollar cost in the future.

Did you know only 20% of our water comes from local sources?  The remaining 80% comes from both the Delta region up in the Bay Area and the Colorado River.  This means a few things.  First of all a drought that may be affecting other regions, and not us directly will certainly impact our water supply.  Also, there are legal battles ensuing over Colorado River water and Delta region water than may reduce the amount of water coming to Southern California.  Let's imagine you have a valuable investment like an established fruit tree, or many.  If there are drought restrictions in place that limit how much you can water your garden (kind of like last summer), wouldn't that water in your 1500 gallon tank become more valuable to you as asset protection?

Did you know that 20% of California's energy costs are associated with moving water around the state, including the incredible feat of pumping our water supply from the State Water Project 1,926 ft over the Tehachapi Pass north of LA.  So let's add some energy costs into the cost of getting our water out of the tap.  Let's also factor in the benefit of having an emergency water supply on hand if power is disrupted for any reason for any length of time.  Maybe that water supply is for protecting your established food production, or maybe it is even more valuable as a drinking supply.  Can you calculate what bottled water will cost per gallon in an emergency and compare that to the cost per gallon of the water you have stored in your tank?

We have only been addressing water supply issues, but what about the value of mitigating storm drain runoff?  How many of your tax dollars are allocated toward dealing with storm drain pollution, or even urban flooding associated with the massive volume of runoff created by paving over as much as 80% of our permeable surfaces in urban areas?  If all of us put at least some of our rainwater from our roof into rainwater tanks, and then redirected the remainder of our runoff into our gardens, which were landscaped to hold water using basins, mulch, and appropriate plantings imagine how much money could be saved at many levels.  Think of tax dollars and grant funding being used to clean up waterways that get inundated with polluted storm water.  Think of tax dollars being used to repair and clean storm drains every season!  Think of redirecting this money to funding education in schools and communities and rebates for systems that serve the double purpose of augmenting a limited local water supply!

Now if you are going to use this very expensive water source to keep your lawn green, you might not consider a rainwater tank cost effective, especially if we look at some very simple figures.  Lawns typically require about 50" of water to stay green throughout the year.  It rains about 10" here in SD.  If you run the calculations of applying 40" of water to 500 square feet of lawn, you realize 13,000 gallons of precious water are required to keep that lawn green.  It is hardly worth storing 1500 gallons, or even 3000 gallons to maintain this aesthetic.  Why not get rid of the lawn and plant something that can be maintained with that 3000 gallons, like natives, or Mediterranean plants such as the Nifty 50.  Native plants maintain a diminishing local ecology which is being threatened by paving and invasive plants.

There is great value to using our precious water resources to grow food locally.  There is an even greater water footprint than what we see on our water bill every month, associated with goods and services we buy and support.  Be on the lookout in the Union Tribune for an article about this in a couple of weeks.  Try to imagine that an orange brought in from Florida has a higher fossil fuel cost, which has an associated water cost, than something grown here in California.  Furthermore, an orange grown in an industrial agriculture setting will have a higher associated water cost than one grown in your backyard.  Furthermore an orange grown on rainwater in your backyard will have the lowest water footprint of all!

This is a lot to take in when you are justifying the purchase of a rainwater tank.  Food for thought: why not consider using greywater!  A simple Laundry-to-Landscape system which sends your laundry water (non-toxic, organic, sodium-free soap included) to your trees and shrubs can cost as little as $150 in parts, or $500 installed by a professional.  If you run 4 loads a week on an older front load washer at a rate of 35 gallons per load, you'll be making over 7000 gallons of water available to your landscape over the course of a year.  If you combine this with trees and shrubs that are actually producing food for you that you don't have to buy from the store, and you take into account the additional nutrient content of this water as a fertilizer that you don't have to purchase and will increase production of your plants, you can see some pretty astounding justification for this water conservation strategy!

For more information about these simple strategies and specifically what is possible in your own space, check out the upcoming Water Harvesting Tour this Saturday (http://www.facebook.com/events/408710185858142/)

or contact Brook Sarson with H2OME at brook@h2o-me.com to schedule a consultation!