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California Drought: As Communities See Water Issues, Some Reuse Gray Water

SAN JOSE (CBS SF) -- It's been years since the Bay Area has had to deal with drought conditions. While some counties look to instituting water-use restrictions, some communities look to creative ways to reuse water.

When Ashley Shannon does a load of laundry, her garden and fruit trees get a super soaking.

"I like the fact that I'm using it once to wash my clothes and then I'm using it a second time so that I'm getting more life out of it essentially," she said.

Shannon is a Santa Clara Valley Water District employee who recently installed a gray water system on her washing machine. Outlet pipes that would normally send wash water to the sewer system were redirected to go outside and around her garden. Valves installed in the ground let the water seep out to irrigate her plants and trees.

It's a simple but effective system. Shannon says the benefits are many, including saving water, and over time, saving money all while giving her landscape all the water it needs.

"I use soap that's biodegradable, I use soap that doesn't have fragrances, not a lot of salts. The soap I use says it's for use with gray water systems and it's easy to find," Shannon said.

Her system only cost $750, which was installed by a contractor, and it did not require a permit from the city of San Jose.

There are plenty of plans and videos are available online for do-it-yourselfers. Other systems which also tie into sinks and showers can be upwards of $5,000 and do require permitting because they modify the house's plumbing.

"It's a matter of people choosing to do it because it just makes sense," said Alan Hackler, a landscape contractor who installed Shannon's system.

Hackler says the return on investment is better when more people live under one roof.

"Some homes have multigenerational families, they have grandparents, and kids living there, those are perfect scenarios because they're creating tons of gray water," Hackler said.

Right now, the Santa Clara Valley Water District is offering incentives, including a $400-rebate on laundry to landscape gray water systems.

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