Saturday, December 8, 2018

Clothes Washer Greywater

I met "L" at the dump the other day and she asked me how I get my clothes washer water to my gardens. She was tired of carrying buckets and was envisioning an underground irrigation system. That surely would work, but I haven't yet gotten to that point. Considering that my gardens are scattered about an area of 6 acres, an irrigation system would have to be pretty extensive.....and expensive. So I have other ways of utilizing my washer water. 

First let me say that the past 3 years have been "wet years", thus irrigation water isn't a high priority. But I still tend to utilize greywater because I believe it's a good habit to be in. During drought years, I become fanatical about using every drop. 

Our wash machine is located in an outdoor shed between the house and driveway. This is Hawaii, so I don't need to have the laundry area inside my living quarters. The water discharge runs out via a long 1 1/2" diameter hose (a swimming pool vacuuming hose) which I can move about the yard. When I don't need irrigation water, I simply let the washing machine discharge directly around some trees, moving the hose so that one spot doesn't get overly saturated. But when I need the water, I either discharge right into a nearby garden or I do something different. 

1- (an old method I no longer use) I run the hose into a large trashcan, then use a bucket to hand dip that water and carry it to a garden spot to water individual plants. Time consuming. Labor intensive. Once upon a time it seemed a fine solution, but my shoulder joints are wearing out so it was time to come up with a less painful method. 

2- Run the hose into the trashcan, BUT rather than hand dip the water, I use a sump pump and a garden hose. The trashcan can hold both the wash and rinse water from one load of laundry, so I don't have to be right there to use the water between wash and rinse cycles. The sump pump (with its dedicated hose) lives in the trashcan, so I don't have to set it up each and every time I need it. Yes, that's a lazy approach, but it's a time saver too. Far, far quicker to just turn on the pump compared to the alternative. 

Now for more distant gardens. I tend to produce more greywater around the house than I need for the house gardens. So I need to get that water to more distant spots. The method I'm currently using involves a trashcan in the back of the pickup truck, a sump pump & garden hose, and my portable generator to run the pump. This means owning two sump pumps and two hoses. Sump pump #1 was given to me by a person who was moving away. I actually broke down and spent money for pump #2 because it made my life easier. (Gosh, I can be such a cheapskate sometimes!) 

Above, here's my set up. Trashcan, pump with hose, generator, truck. I transfer the laundry water into the trashcan, and put a lid on it to keep most of the water in while I drive to the distant location. Pump goes into the water, generator runs pump, garden gets watered. 

Above, the pump actually goes all the way in and sits in the bottom. 

With this system, I can add fertilizer teas to the water before pumping. An added gallon of manure tea or urine will give the soil a bit of a nutrient boost while it's being irrigated. Or I can use fresh compost tea as a foliar treatment to apply microbes and foliar nutrients. 

Oh my......I can hear the screams and warning even now. Egads girl, that's WASTE water. It's "toxic". You're gonna die a thousand deaths from every bizarre disease imaginable. First if all, I don't use toxic chemicals so they are not going to magically appear in my laundry greywater. Yes, there will be some micro cloth particles and biodegradable detergent in the water, and some human skin cells and skin bacteria, a minute amount of residual leftover textile chemicals, but good lordy, that's really not a problem. My soil is teeming with micro organisms who deal with much of it. What they might not deal with will be far less dangerous than wearing the new clothes in the first place, since the cloth is coated with textile chemicals which we tend to absorb into our bodies via skin contact. Yes folks, modern industry poisons us and our world at the request of its customers. Nothing I can do about that, except apologize the earth for our species fouling its own home.  

I'm sure someone out there will warn me about rain splash, but since I wash all my vegetables before eating/selling/trading them, I don't see a problem here. My veggies are far cleaner than the ones you are buying in your supermarket. 

Someone else will tell me that's it's illegal. Yes, it most likely is. (I've become a bit of an outlaw in my old age.) But since it's not a constructed system, I don't think the health department is going to arrest me, nor the hundreds of other gardeners in Ka'u who also do this. 

Urban people especially seem to have a phobia against using greywayer of any quality. While I agree that some types of greywater is not suitable for garden irrigation, I don't have a problem with using my own laundry water. And besides, here's something to think about as you go to sleep at night. Where does your municipal drinking water come from? What's in it? It's not pure H2O. Many urban areas are now utilizing heavily polluted ground water, recycling their greywayer, and (gasp) eyeing up their blackwater! No, it's simply not feasible to remove all the toxic waste from that water you're now drinking. (It can be done on a small scale, but not for a giant population.) Your own bodies become the final filter to remove trace amounts of a vast assortment of every sort of chemical that goes down the drain into the sewer system, including industrial chemicals, medications, animal poop, etc. Yikes. Yes, I conclude that my washing machine water isn't an issue considering the scope of things. 

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