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Gray water systems

Gray water has multiple uses

With growing populations and shrinking water supplies, it's necessary to use less water, and use it for more than one purpose. Some people are installing systems in their homes to capture used water. While it's not good for drinking or cooking, gray water can be used for landscaping. Melissa McDonald is a designer with Santa Fe Permaculture and is an expert on water recycling. She says you can reuse water from basic chores.

"Gray water is bathing water, dish water, laundry water, and things like that," McDonald says. "Basically black water is anything that has sewage or diapers, things like that in it. So that's really important for people to understand."

Black water should not be used. Let that stuff go where it needs to. Some soaps won't work well, either. Look for detergents that claim to be bio-compatible. That means they'll be fine to use in a gray water system because they'll break down easily and won't harm plants.

You can spend thousands to have a plumber install a gray water system, but the best advice is to keep it as simple as you can. "The simplest system would be to just convert your washing machine to pump through a tube out into the landscape," McDonald says. "That's very inexpensive -- you can probably do that for between $20 and $40. And that's really very convenient for folks who do want some flexibility in terms of moving it around their yard."

Be sure to keep an eye on the health of your plants. Gray water is very alkaline, and most plants like acidic soil. Mixing in some white vinegar may help. And always let the gray water run into the soil -- don't sprinkle it onto plants.

There are strict laws regarding storage, purification, and drainage of gray water, so check local ordinances.

Learn more:

Water-efficient landscaping: This guide from the EPA discusses using gray water for watering the yard and garden.

Using gray water on the landscape: Using gray water can almost double home water-use efficiency and provide a water source for landscape irrigation. Here's how.

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