Ashland may be one of the "greenest" towns in the state of Oregon, yet many residents are unaware of the legalization of greywater systems in the state, said Karen Taylor, Siskiyou Permaculture partner, at a “laundry-to-landscape” workshop Sept. 30 on Ashland Mine Road.
“Greywater is slightly used water … but it’s still good, it’s not contaminated and it actually has more nutrients in it than when it started,” Taylor said. “And so, it’s the perfect water to put back into the landscape.”
A greywater system essentially diverts used water from household sinks, showers and washing machines to a subsurface basin designed specifically with that home’s needs in mind. Reused greywater can be used on plants, certain crops, compost and for irrigation purposes. With an agreement between owners, it can even be used on adjacent properties.
Though a greywater system does save a little money, its main purpose is to keep from wasting water, Taylor said.
Cara Cruickshank, a member of the city of Ashland Conservation Committee, volunteered her home and greywater system installation for the workshop. Attendees not only learned how to complete the process of having a system installed, but learned hands-on how to install one themselves by helping finish Cruickshank’s system.
Cruickshank said her landscape is very dry and that the household doesn’t have irrigation rights. The system will help her recycle on average 768 gallons of water annually.
“We don’t want to use city water to water the grass,” Cruickshank said. “It’s a waste of potable water to irrigate lawns, I believe.”
For a multi-family household doing laundry roughly five to seven times weekly with a 15-gallon washer, they would re-use 75-105 gallons every week, Taylor said.
A “laundry-to-landscape” system is the easiest and cheapest greywater system to install; however, there are other systems that can divert water from sinks and showers, as well as the washing machine.
Currently the city of Ashland doesn’t require permits or inspections, but the state Department of Environmental Quality does require a permit. Cruickshank said the process was very simple for her. She simply applied for and bought the permit, contacted the city conservation department, and began the installation at a cost of less than $300.
“It really depends on where the laundry room is and the plumbing that you have, but we’ve seen system installations cost anywhere from $250 up to $1,000 dollars,” said Julie Smitherman, city water conservation specialist.
Each home is different and requires a unique diversion plan. The trench leading the water from the home source to the basin should be 4 to 8 inches underground. Soil, climate, slope and the property water table are significant factors that determine if a greywater system would be beneficial.
The first step in attaining a “laundry-to-landscape” greywater system is to call the public works department at 541-552-2062 to determine if it would be useful to the property. The next steps would be to speak to the DEQ, download the permit, and review online materials which can be found at oasisdesign.net and the city of Ashland website (www.ashland.or.us). From there residents are free to install the system themselves or use a landscape contractor and/or a plumber.
Biocompatible soaps and detergents can be bought at the Ashland Food Co-Op. There are 30 existing greywater permit holders in the state of Oregon and 13 of those belong to Ashland residents.
The city conservation program committee and Southern Oregon Landscape Association partnered to educate the public on the “laundry-to-landscape” system. Another workshop will possibly be held in the spring, and it is their hope that these workshops will encourage Southern Oregon residents to reuse their water.
“It’s very good for our environment, it minimizes the amount of water that goes through the wastewater treatment plant and, if you’re reusing water, it reduces the amount of water you would normally use to water your plants,” Smitherman said.
—Email Ashland freelance writer Caitlin Fowlkes at Caitlin.firstname.lastname@example.org.