Construction Photography

Photo Essay: Greywater Harvesting Installation

INTRODUCTION: Happy fall and welcome to post #8 in the Tucson Home Renovation series! This one’s about saving water while cooling my back yard microclimate.

So far, this home renovation journey has been all about the professionals. Licensed contractors, subcontractors, and all the fun that comes with overseeing their work.

Then comes the quest to make my place into a water harvesting paradise. I’ve been a member of the Watershed Management Group’s Green Living Co-op since it started in 2008, and I’ve hosted three earthworks workshops. The berms, basins, and swales that my fellow co-op volunteers installed have done a great job of keeping the water on my property, and gradually percolating into the ground. Call it a successful passive water harvesting system.

Active water harvesting systems, like my new laundry-to-landscape, are much more involved than their passive counterparts. This is where you’re getting into plumbing, selecting greywater-friendly plants, and installing irrigation lines and emitters. The Watershed Management Group combines professional project planning and management with service learning opportunities for Green Living Co-op members.

My greywater workshop experience began with a visit from a couple of local plumbers. Clay Brown and his assistant installed piping that can route my washing machine wastewater into the sewer or my back yard. If the water stays at my place, it has a big job to do: Water three fruit trees — a fig, lemon, and pomegranate — and a vegetable garden.

After Clay and his assistant left, I tested my new system by placing a small bucket beneath the plumbing stub-out. Darn if that washing machine didn’t overfill the bucket! This kept me running around the yard, frantically watering the plants while trying to keep the puddle beneath the stub-out from turning into a flood. I succeeded — barely.

There’s nothing like doing greywater harvesting manually to sell you on an automated system. I couldn’t wait for those WMG co-opers to come for the irrigation installation and tree planting.

Early on the morning of Saturday, September 16, eight highly motivated volunteers arrived, and, oh, were they ready to work! WMG’s cultural ecologist, Joaquin Murrieta, guided them through everything. Digging holes, planting a pomegranate tree and native grasses, transplanting my fig tree and tepary bean vines, installing irrigation lines, and cleaning up. Did I mention that all of this work got done in less than three hours?

Since the WMG crew departed, I’ve run several loads of laundry. There was a time when I considered this job to be one of those mindless things I had to do every week. No more. When that washing machine drains, I dash outside to watch my plants being watered. Better yet, those three new fruit trees are going to cool my back yard microclimate while producing food.

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