The 100 Greywater System Challenge: Are you on the map?

By Betsy Herbert

Originally published in the Santa Cruz Sentinel 05/16/13

With water conservation becoming a hot topic in this dry year, local residents are flocking to free "laundry-to-landscape" workshops to learn how they can harness their washing machines to water their gardens.

"I just needed that little push," said Pernilla Lillarosa, who lives in Mount Hermon and attended a May 4 workshop in Scotts Valley. "I've wanted to install a greywater system for a long time, but it just seemed too overwhelming. With the help they give you, it's really easy."

Ric Grover, who recently bought a house in Felton, also attended one of the workshops. He hopes to install a laundry-to-landscape system soon.

"I appreciate learning how to do it correctly," he said. "We bought a fixer-upper and we have lots of projects to get done."

The workshops are coordinated by the Central Coast Greywater Alliance and Ecology Action and co-sponsored by local water districts. Central Coast Greywater Alliance and Ecology Action initiated the program and persuaded local water districts to partner in sponsoring workshops and providing key plumbing parts for customers who complete the workshops.

"I'm amazed at how the program is progressing," said Sherry Lee Bryan, Ecology Action's program director of the 100 Greywater System Challenge. The goal is to have residents successfully install 100 laundry-to-landscape systems in the Santa Cruz/Monterey counties by September.

Workshops in Scotts Valley, Soquel and the San Lorenzo Valley have been filling up fast, according to LeAnne Ravinale, water conservation specialist at the Scotts Valley Water District who has participated in several of the events. Both the July 13 workshop sponsored by the San Lorenzo Valley Water District and the May 18 workshop sponsored by the Soquel Creek Water Water District are full.

Laundry-to-landscape systems are one of the simplest methods of re-using water at the residential scale. A laundry-to-landscape system automatically diverts greywater discharged from a washing machine outside to water a garden. These systems are relatively easy install when the installer is properly trained, and they do not require a building permit. Laundry-to-landscape systems do not require a holding tank or filters and do not need to be pressurized or pumped unless there is not an adequate elevation to the landscape.

"Still there are a few things that people should be aware of before they install this system," said LeAnne Ravinale. "They may want to reconsider if they have a water softener installed. A water softener usually adds sodium to the soil, which isn't good. Also, gardens to be watered should not be sloped much from the washing machine."

No permit is required, but you must meet city or county guidelines and follow the plumbing code. In January 2010, the the California Plumbing Code was revised to facilitate greywater system installation. The code applies only to residential buildings, relieves stress on private septic systems, makes legal compliance easily achievable, and provides guidelines for avoiding potentially unhealthful conditions.

People who have installed greywater systems can register their site on a map on the Central Coast Greywater Alliance website.

"People want to be counted," said Bryan, who emphasized that the map doesn't make actual names and addresses public. So far, Bryan said, 163 systems have been installed in the area, including those installed by qualified contractors, which are listed on the website.

For details about upcoming workshops in your area, check out the Central Coast Greywater Alliance website at