Once Illegal, Watering the Garden with Drainage from the Washer or Shower is Gaining Favor

This article first appeared in the Los Angeles Times and was written by Matt Stevens Strands of silver hair fell into Annie Costanzo's face as she wielded a sledgehammer against the brick walkway in her backyard. Plumes of dust and debris filled the air, and reddish-pink shards scattered in the wake of the 64-year-old sculptor's latest water conservation project.

Over the course of two days, Costanzo created a channel, set PVC pipe in it and drilled a hole in a wall of her house to carry water from her laundry to a mulch basin near a magnolia tree behind her home in the Miracle Mile.

"I'm happy to find any way I can to make water go a little bit further," she said.

Costanzo is among millions of Californians who, amid the state's fourth punishing year of drought, are increasingly turning to gray water – from the clothes washer, shower or bathroom sink — to keep trees and other plants hydrated. Educational seminars on the once-illegal water source are filling up faster than ever, installers who did one project a month are putting in two systems a week and a major builder is adding gray water systems to new homes in San Diego. And local and state lawmakers are passing measures and offering proposals to make it easier and cheaper to use gray water.

Still, significant barriers remain. Installing all but the most basic laundry-to-landscape system can require permits and cost thousands of dollars. Experts say the cost savings often don't pencil out and the short-term water savings are relatively meager, leaving homeowners to wonder whether it's a worthwhile investment.

"Probably 15 years ago, it was kind of fringe," said Richard G. Luthy, a Stanford University professor who studies water quality and urban water supply. "Now, it's part of the portfolio people are looking at for water conservation."