Letter to The Editor: Gray Watering, what is it?

Letter to the Editor: The Malibu Times

Gray Watering: What is it? 

Dear Editor, 

I am Rem, in fifth grade. I am writing to encourage all citizens of Malibu to look into gray watering.

What is it?

Gray water (alternately called greywater, gray water or grey water) is slightly used water, such as shower, bath, and washing machine water. You cannot have any human waste infusion or toilet water (together called blackwater). Rainwater is not technically gray water, but can be used as it. Incredibly, 50-80 percent of gray water is wasted, going to the sewer. Let’s change that!


The first gray-water system was made by Laura Allen and Cleo Woelfle-Erkine in 1999. They made several designs. Then they founded a program to educate the public about gray watering, designing systems, and teaching workshops, called Greywater Action.


OK, OK. You know the answer. We were (a few weeks ago) in a severe drought. The recent rain has got us out of it, technically. But we’re still in a drought. The last two years have been the driest in a century. We have 7.94 inches of annual rainfall less than normal, a huge margin.

Machine vs. hand gray watering

There are two main ways of gray watering.

  1. Machine. A machine gray watering system uses pipes, which connect from water-using appliances to an underground tank, sometimes with a filter (or filters) in between. It then can be pumped back up to irrigate your garden or lawn. Gutters can sometimes connect to the system, too. The average system costs about $200, plus getting it installed, which is about $2,000.
  2. Bucket. In this DIY system, you need only a bucket. You just collect used shower water, laundry machine water in a bucket, or put it under a gutter. When full, pour it on your lawn, and “Bam!”
  3. So you don’t want to spend $2,200 on a cutting edge gray water system? Reasonable. But you don’t want to drag around a bucket around your house every day. Here’s what you can do. Use an in-between system. Some examples are the laundry to landscape system, made by Art Ludwig, a more direct gray watering system, or the laundry drum, which uses a barrel as a tank, above ground.

You can also use a less full regular system, like an only bathtub system.

How to help

I’ve been rambling a lot, but here’s how you can help:

  1. Do some bucket gray watering. It’s simple, and I would go into more detail, if I had not explained how to do it a few lines up.
  2. I am sure you have poured rainwater or some potential gray water down the drain at some point. Who hasn’t? When you can, just pour it on your lawn.
  3. If you are serious about gray watering, look into a semi or full system. It is a big commitment, but good for you.
  4. Maybe you want to help to do your part with water conservation, but gray watering isn’t working for you. Keep looking! Some related strategies are rainwater harvesting, planting native drought-tolerant plants, and more.

What are the benefits?

Other than the benefits of saving huge amounts of water (From 10,000-50,000 gallons per year), gray watering saves you a huge amount of money in lawn irrigation: potentially your full lawn irrigation bill. Gray watering also can also help you get around California water use regulations, and give your garden extra water. Most importantly, it is a great way to conserve water and fight drought.

Don’ts and regulations

Although gray watering is a great way to conserve water, like all systems, it isn’t flawless. Because of that there some regulations and guidelines (available at https://greywateraction.org), as follows:

  1. No hazardous chemicals
  2. No connections in the system with potable water
  3. Must be released two inches underground
  4. No sink water
  5. No dishwasher water
  6. Must be possible to divert into a sewer system

That’s to name a few. Also, depending on your system, you might need a permit. Here are some unofficial tips and pointers:

  1. Don’t store longer than 24 hours. It might become rotten
  2. Don’t touch gray water
  3. Some systems require a permit, look into that
  4. If serious, look into regulations in greater detail

Not too hard, right? How about giving it a go?

Rem (age 10), Malibu