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Graywater still a gray area

Cold, fresh water rushes out of the tap. You wash your hands with it. The soap and grime drains away.

Normally, that used water is piped straight to a wastewater treatment facility, where it is filtered, ponded and disinfected at great expense. But if the ideas of a small-but-growing minority take hold, it could be diverted to water a backyard fruit tree instead.

This is “graywater,” a term used to describe water that is not fresh but not toxic either – such as the used water coming from a bathroom sink, shower drain or laundry machine. It’s not potable, of course, but plants like it just fine.

With that in mind, why shouldn’t residents of single-family homes, especially those living in dry climates such as Sonoma’s, be watering plants while they take a shower?

“Wow, you’re talking about the things we talk about in our Alternate Water Sources Working Group,” said James Johnson, a senior environmental health specialist for Sonoma County’s Permit and Resource Management Department.

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