Graywater Gardens + Smarter Water Use

Almost half the people on our planet do not have water piped into their homes. They have to go find their daily supply and carry it back for drinking, washing and bathing. If Oregonians had to do that, we might find ways to use a lot less than our current average 52 gallons (416 pounds!) per day.

As it stands, our city water systems do a great job of delivering a seemingly abundant supply of water to our faucets and showerheads. But, guess what? In parts of Oregon, wells and streams are going dry, and people have been promised more water than nature can provide. Even in western Oregon (often thought of as the “wet” side of the state), drought and water scarcity are growing concerns.

It’s time to rethink how to ensure that our water system is resilient to change. And when it comes to conservation, it’s time to get more creative than just shutting off the water while you brush your teeth.

This summer, the PDX Graywater Partnership (including our friends at Recode) is hosting workshops, courses and tours that will help people make big strides to lighten their water load. The idea is to deliver gently-used water from laundry, showers or sinks”—graywater—to backyard bushes, trees and gardens. By putting graywater to good use, we can help reduce stresses on water supplies, lower home water usage and costs, and support a thriving landscape.

5 amazing things you do when you send water from your laundry and household sinks into your yard:

(1) Save a stream.
Even with the proliferation of water-efficient appliances and water-wise landscaping, water use by residential customers in Portland typically surges two- to three-fold during summer months. When your plants are the most thirsty, so are our rivers, native fish and wildlife that depend on them.

(2) Turn pollution into plant food.
Graywater systems not only water your yard—they also feed it. The nutrients in water from your sink and laundry (traces of food scraps, dirt, grease) act as fertilizer for your plants, and in return, plants and soil filter water before it trickles back into the natural water cycle. When the same nutrients end up in our rivers and lakes, they add up to pollution that causes dead zones, encourages harmful algal blooms, and kills fish.

(3) Let your yard absorb the bills.
Besides what goes down the toilet, most of the water that goes down the drain is essentially wasted. Giving graywater a second life before sending it away can cut your total water usage – and water bill – significantly. If you’re a gardener, that means more food at home and more money in your pocket at the grocery store. By reconnecting our backyards to the natural water cycle, we can build greater resiliency in our communities.

(4) Become toxics aware.
When you reuse graywater in your garden, your plants become a litmus test for how toxic the chemicals are that you use in your home on a regular basis. Switch out cleaners that contain salts, boron or chlorine in favor of gentler products to ensure that your plants do not wilt or turn brown.

(5) Set the next trend.
Although reuse of graywater has been legal in Oregon since 2012, there are only 26 residential systems permitted in the state. Jackson County is leading the pack with more than half of these home systems, and there is only one residential system in Portland, delivering water from Ted Labbe’s washing machine to a row of raspberries thriving in his backyard. Who will be Oregon’s next green leader to harness the power of water reuse?

PDX Graywater Partnership is hoping you will be! Even a simple household system, costing less than a hundred dollars, can provide a reliable water source for bushes, trees and large plants. This summer, Depave, Graywater Action, Recode and other local groups are teaming up to introduce curious homeowners and installers to real installations, help simplify the permitting process, and educate on where to find appropriate parts.

Find out more about summer workshops and tours at

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