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Graywater: An Untapped Opportunity for Sustainability

Although it's illegal in Maryland, some environmentally conscious homeowners are secretly using graywater to irrigate their lawns and gardens.


I know a guy who lives in an old farmhouse with a well and septic system on five acres near Chesapeake Bay.

Shortly after he moved in, he began having problems with his septic system. After several emergency calls to plumbers, one finally told him that his system was too small for the volume of wastewater that his family was putting out and that the only cure would be a lager system.

The quotes he received for a new system left him woozy.

Instead, he decided to plumb his graywater—the wastewater that comes from all sources other than toilets—to his back yard. He disconnected all of the drain pipes that came from showers, sinks, his dishwasher and washing machine and connected them to a two-inch pipe that he ran out through his basement foundation wall and underground for about 100 feet before it discharged into a natural swale.

That was 28 years ago. He hasn’t had a septic problem since.

I asked him about laundry bleach and detergent; doesn’t it kill the plants in the swale?

“Not a problem," he said. "It’s the greenest place you’ve ever seen.”

Does it freeze in the winter?

“Nope, the water is warm enough that it discharges before it can freeze.”

What about your well water—have you had it tested?

“Yes, and it’s fine."

Is there any chance the graywater is reaching a stream and polluting it?

“I don’t think so.”

Mosquitos?

“Nope.”

About a year after he buried the graywater pipe in his back yard, he, who shall remain nameless, stopped mowing the swale. He decided to let it go wild to see what would grow. The swale was taken over by species, some invasive, that were associated with wet conditions, including a weeping willow that he was surprised to see given that he doesn’t think there was another one anywhere near his back yard.

Why don’t more people do this?

Here’s the problem: if a building inspector were to find out about his graywater pipe, he could be fined.

“Why is that?” I asked an official at the permits office in the county where my friend lives.

“Because our building codes are not set up for graywater plumbing.”

“Why is that?” I asked.

“Because” was the best he could do.

Americans produce 28 gallons of graywater per person per day, according to Wholly H2O, a water conservation group in California. A growing number of leaders are advocating using Graywater for non-potable water needs, such as irrigation and toilet flushing.

Six states currently allow residential and commercial occupants to divert and use graywater. Not surprisingly, California and Arizona are in the lead, but other states are signing on.

Do you have any personal experiences with diverting graywater?  If yes, please leave a comment and tell us about them.

This post first appeared on www.GreenBusinessMatters.com.

This post is contributed by a community member. The views expressed in this blog are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of Patch Media Corporation. Everyone is welcome to submit a post to Patch. If you'd like to post a blog, go here to get started.

Deborah Cole April 15, 2012 at 06:11 PM
This related bill didn't pass in Maryland: http://mlis.state.md.us/2010rs/bills/hb/hb0604f.pdf I agree that gray water is something Maryland should allow for watering lawns, etc. The definition of gray water is debated: some experts consider dishwater and bathwater to be black water, because of having food particles and skin particles.
Heather D'Amore April 18, 2012 at 01:27 PM
Is there any form of grey water plumbing allowed in Howard county, even if it's only washing machine water?
Goatman April 19, 2012 at 01:48 AM
" the only cure would be a lager system." Who knew constructing a brewery could solve your septic problems??!!
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