Grey water and rainwater catchment: San Francisco Green Festival

by Betsy Herbert

published 11/26/2011 in the Santa Cruz Sentinel

Two Sundays ago, I set out for the 10th annual Green Festival at the San Francisco Concourse Exhibition Center. Billed as “the nation’s premier sustainability event,” the Green Festival is an extravaganza of organic food, green building, urban farming, solar energy, green jobs, electric cars, and sustainable clothing.

The Green Festival is a joint project of Green America and Global Exchange, two non-profits that work to connect ecological sustainability with economics and social justice.

I was glad I arrived early because the venue was jammed within a couple of hours. The 350 exhibits and 120 speakers can be overwhelming. But…I knew what I was looking for and I made a bee-line for the green building exhibits to learn about some of the new trends in graywater and rainwater catchment systems.

I found a do-it-yourself (DIY) workshop that explained in a straightforward way how to install a simple low-tech “Laundry to Landscape” system, which automatically divert graywater discharged from your washing machine outside to water your garden.  The Soquel Creek Water District offer a $75 rebate when you install a simple “Laundry to Landscape” system. No permit is required, but you must meet city or county guidelines ( and follow the plumbing code. For more information check out the Central Coast Graywater Alliance (

I found several Green Festival exhibits showcasing the latest rainwater catchment systems, which collect rainwater from roofs to use later for landscape irrigation. Since we’re near the beginning of the rainy season, it’s a great time to install one. Rebates for different types of rainwater catchment systems are offered by both Scotts Valley Water District and Soquel Creek Water District.

This is also the right time of year to plant a water-smart garden and/or replace your lawn--the thirstiest part of any landscape--with drought tolerant plants or artificial turf. Most water agencies offer rebates for lawn replacement…check your local water agency website. For photos of gorgeous local water-smart gardens and endless ideas for what to plant where, check (

After my hectic Green Festival experience, I needed to get outside and enjoy a peaceful hike on one of our beautiful open spaces here in Santa Cruz. I was walking along the Spring Trail in the Pogonip, a favorite of many hikers and dog walkers, when I came across a work party organized by Friends of the Pogonip. They were ripping out an invasive plant known as “sticky snakeweed,” trying to stop it before it invaded and choked the creek. Thanks to Peter and Celia Scott for organizing this, and to all the folks out there getting dirty and doing us all a favor. If you’d like to pitch in and help on future weed pulls, check out the Friends of Pogonip website (

More environmental news of note . . . On November 8, the Santa Cruz County Board of Supervisors unanimously approved a resolution requesting Governor Jerry Brown to take a second look at the safety of methyl iodide, a soil fumigant approved for agricultural use in California during Governor Arnold Schwarzenhegger’s term. Methyl iodide was approved to replace the widely used toxic methyl bromide, which is being phased out because it depletes the earth’s ozone layer. Trouble is, the replacement methyl iodide is even more toxic, a listed carcinogen and known water pollutant with high health risks.  The resolution urges the governor  to re-evaluate, on a scientific basis, the registration of methyl iodide for agricultural use in California (