One Small Step: From Sink to Sunflowers
Laura Allen (left, with Cleo Woelfe-Erskine and a bathtub wetland) Oakland, California
Cofounder, Greywater Guerrillas, age 31
"I WAS LIVING IN A BIG HOME with seven other people, and we were starting to garden. My housemate Cleo and I realized that our household was using an incredible amount of water. The average American uses 50 to 70 gallons of water per day, just inside the home. If you include the yard and lawn, it's almost double. It seems crazy how much we waste.
"So I wondered if there was a way to reuse our sink water to irrigate. Through trial and error, we figured out how to create a gray-water system, which means taking the water from your sinks, showers, or washing machine and directing it into your yard. I took a plumbing class, and we set up a little wetland in a bathtub in the yard to filter the water. We were able to cut our water use in half.
"Some people have the misconception that gray-water systems are dangerous or unhealthy, but there has never been a documented case of anyone getting sick from them, as long as you don't drink the water or spray it on food crops that will be eaten raw. They're easy to set up and only cost around $100 for a basic system, not including labor.
"After we installed our system, lots of people asked questions about it, so we self-published a magazine and distributed it to people who wanted to learn how to set up their own. It started spreading around the country, and we got letters from as far away as Australia. We took on the name Greywater Guerrillas and wrote a book about it. Now we're touring the country helping folks with installations. People tell us that they find taking control of their water system really empowering. And
it forces you to be a better steward—you
don't want to pour toxic products down the drain if they're going right into your vegetable garden." —interview by Orli Cotel
GOT WATER? Between 1950 and 2000, the U.S. population grew by almost 90 percent, while water use swelled by 209 percent. At least 36 states expect local, regional, or statewide water shortages by 2013, according to the EPA.