Malena Marvin has a washer set up to supply graywater to her yard and plants, and plans to hook up a shower, too. - Jamie Lusch

Don't dump that water — reuse it

A great deal of household water can be recycled and piped outside for gardens and landscaping under a state law set up last year, and Ashland aquatic ecologist Malena Marvin, who installs graywater systems, will offer do-it-yourself classes in May.

"It's easy to do, but it's also easy to do wrong," says Marvin, who has started the 100 Houses Graywater Challenge and is trying to get city planners interested in helping and promoting it.

"It's important we do these right and that, if you do it yourself, that you have a consultant work with you," she says, "so it will become talked about and accepted as a normal, good idea. We don't want to have people winging it, then having problems, so then people think graywater is a problem."

Graywater is household waste water diverted from one of four sources — washing machines, bathtubs or showers, bathroom sinks and kitchen sinks — and reused for irrigation. Water from toilets, dishwashers and garbage disposals can't be used. Graywater can be used on trees, landscaping plants, compost, lawns and gardens, but not for edible root crops such as carrots and beets.

Until last year, graywater reuse was not legal in Oregon. In 2009, following the lead of several other states, the state Legislature passed a bill directing the Department of Environmental Quality to set standards and create a permit structure for graywater reuse and disposal systems. The agency completed the process in 2011 and began issuing permits last spring.

Costs for the permits vary depending on the type of system being installed. Costs and other details can be seen on DEQ's website at

Showing the system in her backyard, Marvin, 35, shows how the flow is controlled by a three-way valve inside the house, so waste water can either be sent to plants or to the normal sewage or septic system.

Waste water travels to landscaping through 1-inch high-density polyethylene pipe. In Marvin's system, the water goes into 4-foot-long "mulch basins" that are filled with bark dust. Roots of nearby plants suck up the precious liquid, she says.

Marvin, who charges $595 to install a graywater system, was trained in graywater design in California. She says she plans to get a contracting license soon.

Marvin does consulting on the systems and notes she can help with the DEQ paperwork and site plans. Permits require homeowners to calculate how much water the plants will use, she says, and that determines how much water you can divert to yards. They also require waste water to be 4feet above the summer water table. The systems are turned off in winter.

Marvin built an outdoor shower with mostly recycled materials and will hook that up with her graywater system.

"It's about how to blend ecological design with esthetics," she says. "It's a great opportunity to interact more meaningfully with our own landscape."

Marvin will offer a hands-on, DIY "Laundry to Landscape" workshop May 17-19. Participants will learn to modify a washing machine's drain line, set up irrigation and design their landscape to make the best use of the water.

The workshop costs $135. Register at 541-821-7260 or

John Darling is a freelance writer living in Ashland. Email him at

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