We started getting those “uh oh” feelings in December. The consecutive sunny days, mild temperatures and utter lack of clouds combined to create a sense of deep unease that was all too familiar.
And when the storms kept tracking north all the way through March and water officials sounded the alarm about record low reservoir levels and scant snowpack in the Sierra, it was, as Yogi Berra observed, déjà vu all over again: We were in for another drought of potentially devastating severity.
How devastating, of course, will depend on duration. As a family, we discussed the long-term social and civic consequences of another extended drought. But the big issues were out of our hands. Like everyone else, we had to endure the here and now with as little disruption to our daily lives as possible.
And that was particularly problematic for us. I like to garden, and my family likes the home-grown fruit and vegetables I grow in our Rincon Valley yard. Our local pollinators appreciate the zinnias I plant. And I find the work personally gratifying and a great mechanism for relieving stress. Also, I’d hoped to expand my garden this year: an extra tomato patch in the backyard, more vegetables of all varieties in the front. The certitude of water restrictions couldn’t have come at a worse time for us.
Wholesale recycling of family’s graywater
I considered scaling back my ambitions dramatically, but after some thought I decided to move ahead with my plans, accommodating the realities of the drought with extra mulching, judicious and minimal hand watering — and wholescale recycling of our family’s graywater, from bathroom sinks, showers, tubs and washing machine.
I’d been down this road before, of course. The 2012-2016 drought was the driest period in recorded state history, and I had managed to keep gardening. So I was ready in terms of both technology and technique. As before, I ascribed to the acronym KISS: Keep It Simple, Stupid.
This is partly because I’m – well, a little stupid. Some neighbors had responded to the looming drought with rather complex gravity-flow systems or pump apparatuses to shunt their graywater directly from source to plants. But that seemed daunting.
Plus, I’m lazy when it comes to plotting out schematics. If given an option, I’ll always default to simple brute labor to solve a household problem.
So first, I had to gear up. My needs were minimal: four 5-gallon buckets and two 32-gallon plastic garbage cans from Home Depot. Also, a couple of bales of wheat straw, to be replenished as necessary. I already had a required eight-foot extension to my washing machine hose. (Two older garbage cans that I used in the previous drought are now employed in my composting system.)
One bucket went into the shower stalls of each of our bathrooms. I attached the hose to my washing machine, putting the opposite end into one of the two garbage cans now situated just outside our garage back door. Our graywater…