January 7, 2011

Assessing for Water Conservation Systems

One of our 2011 homestead goals, is to begin to utilize water conservation systems. By this of course, I mean rainwater collection and greywater recycling. With the current house project being the second bathroom, it seemed the right time to begin planning in that direction. After all, shower and sink water are a greywater resource we don't want to waste down the drain.

We have city water and a septic system, so for us, using rain and greywater for irrigation make sense for a number of reasons. One reason is stewardship. This not only includes wise use of our planet's resources, but also of what we personally have responsibility for. For example, our small, potentially easy to overflow 750 gallon septic tank. Or the foundation of our home, which would benefit from not having rainwater discharged directly onto the ground via the gutters, as is the case now.

Stewardship includes our finances. Would we rather pay for 100% of our water usage, or invest that money in something else for the homestead? Something that will enable us to become more self-reliant and cut down on the income we need to support ourselves.

This relates to our second reason, self-sufficiency. Self-sufficiency to us, means not only being self-sustaining, but also not having to rely solely on a larger system to meet our basic needs. That's one of our major goals, to whatever extent we can manage. We work toward alternatives in the event any part of the larger system fails, or costs skyrocket beyond our humble means. Last summer's annual dry spell doubled our water bill. We realized we need to do something about that.

The first step was to check state and local codes for greywater restrictions. After that, we worked on clarifying our goals and expectations. They're explained above, but to put them succinctly, conservation and irrigation.

The second step was to evaluate our particular situation in terms of sources and needs. We started by making a sketch from our master plan.

Click for full size

Green areas are our irrigation needs, current and future. Currently we need to water the vegetable garden, fruit trees and shrubs, a perennial bed (leftmost, currently strawberries, comfrey, almond & crabapple trees), and herb and flower beds in the front yard. Future needs include the rest of the front yard once its converted to more herb beds and edible landscaping, a shade garden ("Bird Garden" on the sketch), and a patch for grain crops (upper right).

Blue areas in the house, indicate greywater sources:
#1 - hall bathroom and washing machine (on back porch)
#2 - kitchen sink
#3 - 2nd bathroom

Currently these all drain into the septic tank, indicated by the orange circle.

Little red circles indicate downspouts. Having a gutter system already in place will make it easier for creating a rain water catchment system. I didn't mark it on the sketch, but this water collects in driveway to the left of the car port and beyond.

Another consideration is the lay of the land, i.e, slope. Obviously this determines where and how the water is delivered. Our highest elevation is at the front of the property, near the road. It slopes downward toward the back of the property. I was able to piece together a rough topographical map of our property from some online county resources ...

Click for larger

When we took a closer look at it however (you can too, just click on the map), we discovered it isn't entirely accurate. It's true that the house sits on the highest elevation, but the yard isn't as level as the map seems to indicate. There is a four foot drop in slope from the front to the back of the house, especially along that southeast side. This presents a challenge because obviously water won't flow uphill without  help.

The next step will be logistics. This will be more challenging, because we have to consider where each water source is to be utilized and how to get it there. For example, greywater is excellent for watering things like fruit trees, but not recommended for root crops.

With all of this under our belt, we can begin exploring plans and options. We'll need an overall plan before we can focus on any one area. Preliminary research makes us realize that while the concept for greywater recycling is simple, implementation has its pitfalls, of which we must take care. In other words, we've got to do our homework!

All this is going to take time to research and apply to our situation. Just doing the analysis feels like progress however. Developing and implementing a specific plan will be much slower going. I'll keep you updated though, as we work on figuring it all out.


Benita said...

Fascinating! I didn't realize there was so much to consider. My land is very flat - maybe a foot or two difference from end to end, so I would have to think around no gravity at all. Hmmm... I can't wait to read more on how you plans go.

Woolly Bits said...

water management can keep you up at night! we are lucky to live in a country with quite a lot of rainfall - but we also know that weather can change and not always for the better! there are as many predictions about the changes to climate as there are scientists:(( we thought about digging a cisterne for some time, but the ground isn't suitable for this, so we had to make do with water tanks around the house. we can't dig our own well, but luckily we have the well in the valley. for drinking water only though, it would be impossible to carry enough water up to the house - and we're not allowed to install a pump, as the land is not ours! so many things to consider - as usual we can only try to make the best of what's there.... first of all we have to install the replacement pump though:))good luck with your planning, it'll take some time to figure it all out....

The Apple Pie Gal said...

Very impressive! At a minimum, we have our sights on collecting rainwater as well.

Renee Nefe said...

I hope it all works out for you. It sounds like you have a great plan in place.

I wish we were allowed to do something like this. Honestly I would love to catch my neighbor's run off (coming down the street) and use that to irrigate my yard...but of course that isn't permissible.

My husband is always checking our sprinklers to be sure that they are putting the water on the yard and not on the pavement. Whomever installed our system didn't leave a sprinkler head map (hubby did for our old house) so after living here for 3 years we found out we had two additional sprinklers heads that had been buried! It was like finding water.

Laura said...

I'd love to have a gray water system - however, my house is at the bottom of the hill and everything else (well most of it) is above it.

I'm looking forward to building a house at the upper end of the property (someday), and using some greener systems in it's construction, including gray water drains, solar panels, etc.

I know I'll be looking back at your blog archives for how-to's, so I don't re-invent the wheel!!

Leigh said...

Benita, we didn't realize what went into it either. In one sense it seems so simple, but there is so much to consider. I'll be blogging about it as we go along in our research and planning.

Bettina, I think this is a challenge no matter where one lives. Sounds like you've been thinking it through too. You're right about taking time to figure it all out. In fact, the more we read, the more we realize we need to learn.

APG, rainwater collection will be so helpful! We have ideas, but implementing them all will take some time. Would love to get at least that in place before our summer dry spell, but I'm not going to count on that too much.

Renee, I've heard that your state is really restrictive about water recycling. I find that puzzling, in light of what we're being told about our water supply. Maybe some enlightened minds will work to change the laws for the better.

Laura, actually, it seems like it would be so much easier to just build all these things in to the home rather than retrofit it all. And yes, being at the bottom of a hill would really put the kibosh on any water recycling plans!

I'll post as we learn. The greywater part especially is a much more extensive subject that one might think. And the last thing we want to do is do something wrong and have to re-do in the future!

Anonymous said...

Great that you are able to put in a grey-water system - so many areas are still restrictive about this common sense idea!

Suzanne said...

I just found your blog and love it. I really appreciate your organized and logical thinking. I really enjoy reading about your adventure in taking care of yourselves and mother earth. Blessed be.

Theresa said...

As always, your thoughtful and well planned posts are mid boggling on so many levels. I usually get stopped by the fact we don't have gutters. They would never hold with the heavy snow and ice build up around here
and went to a french drain around the perimeter instead right from the get go. Since we have a walk out basement and the plumbing was done by Gene and is easily accessible, I think greywater routing and storage would be more doable.. But of course, need a garden first, or at least some nice fruit trees! :)

Leigh said...

Evelyn, I do feel fortunate. I'm not sure why government agencies feel they have to restrict this, and rainwater usage as well. Any ideas???

Suzanne, welcome and thank you! Blogging truly is a wonderful venue for organizing one's thoughts and ideas.

Theresa, we definitely envy your basement! It would definitely make it easier to work on the plumbing! Even ornamentals could benefit from graywater recycling.

Woody said...

We installed gray water drainage when we built our home. The little extra in materials was minimal. As far as additional costs; an extra twenty minutes on the backhoe running the trench away from the top end of the septic system. The hardest part for me was making sure I had everything marked on the pipe for future reference.


Toni aka irishlas said...

Great plans and wonderful research. Nothing is as simple as it seems once put on paper.

We haven't researched gray water containment, but, have evaluated rain water catchment. It will be a couple of years most likely before the full plan is put into place. It's mostly dealing with the county that's a hinderance.

Can't wait to see how you make out.

Flower said...

Intentional....you have done this so well and it is commendable! Your are respecting the world you live in and we could all do better in that area! Your respect is encouraging! Birth and growth of these plans bring food to the table!

Anonymous said...

Your map doesn't indicate where the septic leach field is, although I assume it must be down-gradient of the holding tank. If, for some reason you're not able to put together a greywater recycling system for all your irrigation needs, you could fall back on digging a shallow artesian irrigation well, which would get that part of your water needs off the city meter. Providing, of course, you have the water table to do it! Sounds like you have your work cut out for you. Sue in MA

Leigh said...

Woody, that's excellent. That would be the best time to do it too. You make it sound easy and that's encouraging!

Toni, that is so true about plans on paper versus making them a reality! I'm sorry to hear you're another one who has to deal with county agencies. Rainwater usage makes so much sense, I hope it works out well for you.

Flower, thank you! Good word, respect. I think it is key to how we should deal with our world and with one another.

Sue, good point. I should have included that too. The leach field actually goes under the fence to the right of the septic tank, and then takes a turn to follow the fence line. We would absolutely love to dig a well. We haven't researched the feasibility of this nor the water table, but it's on the list of things to do. Actually, city water would have been put in after the home was built, so there must be an original well somewhere near the house. Our neighbor found theirs when it created a sink hole in the driveway. Theirs was dry though, unfortunately.

Project Girl said...

Leigh, I am not tackling as many glorious (I'm serious!) projects as you and yours are, but I have tackled rain water collection. My post about what I've learned in my little corner of the world may be of interest (or.... it may not...)


Thanks for writing!

Leigh said...

Project Girl, thank you so much for the link to your blog post. Research combined with experience really pays off! I'm amazed at how much rain you're able to collect with your barrels. Very encouraging.