We recycle lots of things— plastic bottles, aluminum cans, paper, styrofoam, etc. But did you know that you could also recycle water? Recycling water is possible and very beneficial to operating your home in a water-efficient manner. Here are two different and cost-effective ways to recycle water in your home:
One way you can recycle is by reusing graywater. Graywater is the water from your bathrooms sinks, showers, tubs, and washing machines. Often times, it contains traces of dirt, food, hair, grease, and cleaning products. Although it appears “dirty,” graywater can be recycled from your home and applied to your landscape in a water-efficient manner. Because graywater contains anaerobic bacteria, it isn’t ideal for the lawn or vegetable gardens. However, graywater does work great when you spray or flood around plants such as fruit trees and tomatoes.
According to Brook Sarsons, founder and owner of H2OME, "55 percent of our water usage is for residential use, and of that, 60 to 65 percent is used on landscaping." Typical fruit trees use up to 35 to 50 gallons a week, and with a laundry-to-landscape system that recycles graywater, you can save up to 17 gallons of water a day. Sarsons also states that establishing 365 laundry-to-landscape systems would save over two million gallons of water per year.
Let’s face it: maintaining a lawn can be expensive. A 500-sq ft lawn requires 50 inches of water per year: that’s over 13,000 gallons of water. Along with graywater, a second way to drastically cut your water usage is through harvesting rainwater. You can harvest rain off the roof, into a tank, or directly into the ground. Unlike graywater, rainwater is great for vegetable gardens. With rainwater harvesting, a 1000-ft roof can yield 600 gallons of water with just one inch of rain. Although San Diego typically receives about 10 inches of annual rain, with gutters, you could fetch over 300 gallons per one-inch of rainwater. With a large plastic tank, you can save this recycled rainwater and re-distribute it to your garden in a water-conservative way--saving energy, money, and most of all, water.
P.S. Be on the lookout for May's Signs of the Tide event featuring rain barrels!
There are a number of ways to expand water supply in San Diego. San Diego Coastkeeper supports following the route of reduce, reuse, recycle, before attempting to find new sources.
First and foremost, we need to focus more on water conservation, or reducing the amount of water we actually use. It’s the easiest, cheapest way to boost our water supply. It is also the focus of the Be Water Wise 20 Gallon Challenge, a campaign to reduce the amount of water used per household by 20 gallons per day. Conservation techniques can include anything from taking shorter showers to starting a compost bin so you use less water running the disposal and much more.
Rainwater harvesting and greywater systems reuse water without treating it first. This is also a fairly simple way to increase supply, because less water is wasted. Capturing rainwater allows its use for irrigation and helps avoid using potable water for the purpose. It’s easily done at home, and requires very little installation.
Greywater also can be used for irrigation, with the added bonus of reducing the amount of water sent to treatment plants and released into the ocean. Using greywater at home is more complicated than catching rainwater, as it requires a plumber to divert water exiting bathroom sinks, washing machines, and showers (all with very low dirt-to-water ratios) to landscaping outside the house (storage of greywater is not advised). The low level of detergents and dirt can actually be good for the plants, but keep it on your property and avoid runoff to the street.
Wastewater recycling, or Indirect Potable Reuse (IPR) if used for drinking water, falls into this category. Sometimes called “toilet to tap” by detractors, the process uses advanced treatment processes to treat wastewater to levels even cleaner (page 108 of this report) than San Diego’s typical drinking water, then put it back in the water supply. A Demonstration Project is underway to prove the process safe for San Diego. If it succeeds, wastewater recycling could be the next step in increasing our water supply.
Purple pipe is the other side of wastewater recycling, where wastewater is only partially treated and used for irrigation. Coastkeeper is in favor of this strategy only in targeted areas, as it requires a separate plumbing system and is therefore very expensive to install.
After experimentation with the above sources, it might be necessary to look for new water sources. Further importation of water is theoretically possible, but San Diego already imports more than 80 percent of its water from the Sacramento/San Joaquin Delta and the Colorado River, supplies not under our control. Increasing that percentage would be risky, so any further imports would have to be done in combination with other techniques.
Desalination is another option, but while local, this source of water has a number of problems. A major one is the intake pipe: open-ocean intakes function as vacuums into the sea or lagoons where they suck in and kill marine life, a major issue. Subsurface intakes are better, as they take in salt water from under the sand and so greatly limit fish kills. The process of desalting ocean water is very similar to Indirect Potable Reuse, but because of the higher salt content, it is very energy-intensive. Besides the desired freshwater, the process also yields a very saline chemical-laden brine – diluted, the brine can be released into the ocean, but it can poison marine life if too concentrated. Menachem Elimelech, director of the environmental engineering program at Yale, said in a News Hour interview, “Desalination of seawater, because it is energy intensive should always be as a last resort…. It can be and should be part of the portfolio for water supply but only after all other measures are done.” Coastkeeper believes that desalination could have a place in San Diego’s water portfolio, but only on a limited scale and only using subsurface intakes.
Good news for San Marcos residents who want to do their part to solve our urban runoff program. This Saturday, the City of San Marcos and Vallecitos Water District will be giving away rain barrels—free—at a workshop.
The event will take place from 9 a.m. to noon Saturday at Vallecitos Water District's offices at 201 Vallecitos de Oro in San Marcos. Space is limited, so to register, call Torrey Webb at 760-744-0460, ext. 238.
Rain barrels can be a great way to tackle two important water issues: water quality and water supply. By capturing water, rain barrels reduce the amount of water running off our roof, across our lawns and into the storm drain. This reduces the total amount of pollution that makes its way into our ocean and waterbodies. And it also reduces the amount of total water in our creeks during storm events, which reduces hydromodification, which includes devastating erosion of our creeks and waterways.
Rain barrels also address a water supply issue. By capturing water in rain barrels, residents can “harvest” the captured water and use it to irrigate their lawn and garden—reducing the amount of water they would otherwise use to irrigate their yards.
The city and the water district planned the workshop as part of long-term requirement to reduce pollution to San Marcos Creek. The city needs to reduce pollution—including bacteria, nitrogen and phosphorus—into the creek by 2021.
San Diego Coastkeeper has been involved in efforts with other stakeholders, including the City of San Marcos and Vallecitos Water District, to address pollution in Lake San Marcos, which was created by the damming of San Marcos Creek. To learn more about efforts to reduce pollution in Lake San Marcos and the Upper San Marcos Creek, click here.
Water – how to get it when you want it, keep it until you need it and survive on what you have is one of the oldest and most fundamental challenges of human civilizations. In San Diego, many of us probably don’t think about the vast network of pipes, canals, and reservoirs that snake out behind our taps to move water hundreds of miles – crossing mountain ranges, the Central Valley, and several large urban areas before flowing out of our taps. But the certainty of our water supply is increasingly being called into question.
Clearly, we are not the first group of people to face these troubles. Our neighbors to the south apparently figured it out a long time ago. Recently, archeologists working in Mexico discovered a 1,500-year-old water reservoir the size of a soccer field in the middle of the Mexican rainforest. While large ancient reservoirs have been found before in Mexico, the Mayans who built this one apparently figured out a clever way to help ensure that the water lasted – the floor of this reservoir was lined with ceramic shards, which helped seal the reservoir. In this way, the ancient Mayans managed to locally capture and store water for a population of at least 2,000 through the 3-month dry season.
Now, most of us are not going to run out to convert our backyard swimming pools into our own local water supplies. But, we can capture water on a smaller scale right in our own backyard. Backyard rain barrels or cisterns are a great way to help reduce our reliance on imported water and help reduce the impacts of urban runoff at the same time. And now the County of San Diego will help you do it! On September 26, the County of San Diego will host a Rain Barrel Outreach and Sales event at the Fallbrook Village Square from 9 a.m. – 1 p.m. For more information, check out our Green In San Diego calendar.