SAN GABRIEL VALLEY, Calif. — With a full house that includes her husband, two young daughters and two dogs, homeowner Erin Payne is constantly doing laundry, sometimes one load every day.
"All of our pets and kids and being out in the dirt," she said. "It's a lot."
But Payne said one thing that always bothered her was all the water going to waste, not only for laundry but other things. "All of our showers and baths and bathroom sinks are all connected, so the combination is quite a bit of water," she said.
Given the current drought and her own experience growing up in the Eastern Sierras and seeing the Owens Valley drained of its water, she decided to do something about it. Payne transformed her front yard into a native plant garden and enlisted the help of Leigh Jerrard, who started a company called Greywater Corps, to irrigate the fruit trees in her backyard with greywater from her house.
"Greywater is gently used water that comes from bathtubs, showers and laundry and bathroom sinks that can be recaptured," Jerrard said.
Jerrard, a licensed contractor and architect, said greywater isn't that dirty and doesn't have to go into the sewer. For the past 11 years, he's helped about 600 households in the Los Angeles area reuse that water for irrigation with a system he designed.
"Step one is redoing the plumbing in the house to separate the greywater fixtures, bathtubs, showers, laundry, bathroom sinks, separate them from the sewer system and redirect them to the greywater system," he said. "Step two for this project is installing a pump, and step three is installing the irrigation."
Jerrard said greywater is best used for fruit trees, shade trees and larger ornamental plants because they need the water, unlike native, water-efficient plants. But he said homeowners must be careful about what kind of products they use in the laundry machine, for example, that could affect greywater.
"So something like Tide powder is going to have a lot of salts in it. It may also have a lot of phosphorous and nitrogen that are fertilizers, so some plants will respond well to that, but one of the problems with greywater is that there can be salt buildup in the soil," he said.
His system is designed so homeowners can choose whether to route greywater to the sewer or to the yard with a switch he installs inside the home. Jerrard says in an ideal setting, a greywater system can save homeowners up to 45% on water and lately, demand has gone through the roof. He's booked solid through November, keeping Jerrard and his crew of nine employees very busy.
"It's more than a full-time job," he said. "I will say the phone has been ringing off the hook because everyone is very concerned about water conservation."