09/14/2009 05:12 am ET | Updated May 25, 2011

Going Gray to Get Green

As a professional greenie, I am especially conscious of wasting water. When washing dishes in the sink, or taking showers, I think about the precious commodity that our water is -- especially in the parched Southwest -- and how it is literally going down the drain. I have even caught myself timing my showers and challenging myself on how quickly I can soap up and get out.

Gray water systems provide a way to retrieve this used but not useless water. Of course you wouldn't drink it, but for landscaping irrigation and just watering the flowers, it can be safely reclaimed in many cases, potentially saving millions of gallons of water per year. For homeowners with larger lots of, say, a quarter acre and up, gray water systems can make an immediate impact on preserving this precious resource while reducing your water bill significantly. Guiltless landscaping, quite the concept, eh?

Previously, there were many restrictions on this practice because of concerns about contaminants seeping into the water table. However, the passage of California Assembly Bill 313, while still restrictive, is a step in the right direction. California's new positioning on gray water is significant because residential users no longer need a building permit to install systems. For the country, this is significant because most progressive states follow California's lead on environmental legislation.

The simplest and most basic gray water system is, literally, keeping a bucket in the shower and using the water you've accumulated to water the landscaping or grass. Kind of a pain to carry the bucket outside, but, hey it works. I also put a large bowl under the faucet while I am washing dishes, any water caught, immediately.

So why isn't everybody doing it? Mostly because it takes time, effort and money to install a mechanical gray water system. And you need to find a contractor with the skills and experience to install the system properly. It's really worth looking into. For more information on gray water policies in your area, see Oasis Design. For guidance on how to get started with your own gray water system, visit or Sierra Club Green Home.