March 2, 2012
As we’ve seen in our readings this semester, water access and supply have played a crucial role in the history of the Los Angeles region. There have been ongoing issues regarding where to get water from and how to transport and store it.
I’m sure that as an ENST major, you’ve all learned about conservation techniques and the importance of lessening your impact. Specifically in LA, our classes have highlighted the wasteful habits that many Angelenos take part in, such as owning a lawn and keeping it fully manicured – in a desert environment. It just doesn’t make sense.
But I’m not here to talk about the negatives happening here in LA. Instead, I’d love to share some knowledge with you guys about how YOU can make a difference. Even here in LA.
We all know to conserve – to turn the water off while we brush our teeth, to take shorter showers – but a less commonly brought up solution to our water problem is reclamation of water in the household! Wastewater that has already been used for domestic activities can actually be reused or filtered on-site. Domestically used water is called greywater, and it can actually be reused as-is for landscape irrigation or can be filtered and used for gardening or domestic use again. The question is, HOW do you do that?!
Last summer I did research in Brazil on sustainable lifestyles. I learned a lot about water reclamation. Some of the techniques I learned are applicable to LA, while others are not.
In Brazil, the banana plant is used as a natural water filter for blackwater (water that contains human waste). The water that is ejected from flush toilets flows through pipes until it is underneath a banana plant that neighbors the house – usually planted specifically for this use. Here, the solid waste is separated from the water-waste and the solid waste falls into a septic tank. The liquid waste and water cleanly re-enter the water cycle because the banana plant roots pull the water up, filter it, and release it back into the water cycle through transpiration. What a cool natural water filtration system!
I also learned tactics that we can use here in LA- where we do not have the climate to support banana plants – such as greywater collection and reuse. One way that greywater can be collected is to put a plastic bin in your shower. As you shower, gallons of water go to waste down the drain – so why not get a little use out of some of that wasted water? After your shower, you can use the water that collects to hydrate the plants in your backyard. Other environmentalists have rigged their plumbing systems to directly divert shower/laundry/sink water into their backyard:
(This 3-way valve allows a resident to choose when to send greywater from the washing machine directly into the irrigation system connected to his or her backyard. The sign reads: “sewer” for when the valve is up, or “greywater” for when the valve is flat.)
If you choose to partake in this practice, Greywateraction.org recommends switching to biodegradable shower products such as Dr. Bronner’s soap. However, the site also notes that some people still use their regular shampoo and their plants are fine – it’s just a question of the other effects of the shampoo/conditioner possible pollution.
Check out this website that talks about using your shower water to water your trees and plants: http://greywateraction.org/content/choosing-plants-and-irrigating-greywater
Information collected from personal interviews in Brazil – June 2011. Research supported by USC Summer Undergraduate Research Fund.
This post was authored by Nina Gordon-Kirsch ’12, who is pursuing a BS in Environmental Studies with a minor in Marketing.