The Cleanest Line

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    My Footprint series - Grow with the Flow

    Series intro: A new citizen is emerging. That citizen is engaged, concerned, and most of all, confident; confident in his or her choice as a consumer, confident in his or her power as an employee, confident that change is possible.

    The Footprint Chronicles were developed to document the changes we’re making as a company to lighten our environmental impact and do less harm. These chronicles are as much an inspiration to Patagonia employees as they are an outgrowth of our personal values. The “My Footprint” series shares the stories of Patagonia employees who have been inspired by the Chronicles, and whose inspiring lives help fuel the vision of what we can do as a company.

    Their stories are offered here, glimpses of individual footprints spotted along the path toward positive change.  We invite you to enjoy these personal accounts, and share your own in the Comments section included with these posts.

    Lines [Ed note: This installment comes from a local Ventura canoe paddler; someone whose time on the water has influenced their concern for water resources. Faced with a different set of problems than our previous contributor, the solution outlined below is a do-it-yourself inspiration. Enjoy reading this footprint, and remember to click the "About" section if interested in submitting your own.]

    Our family had long considered doing something to solve both the problem of old plumbing running over from our laundry, and needing to water our large backyard — adding a greywater system to the washing machine seemed the obvious solution. Our laundry room is in the back of the house, conveniently perched at the top of a hill above the backyard. A simple water-diversion scheme for the laundry's greywater made a great deal of sense.

    [Looking more elaborate than it is, a simple valve system controls which portion of the yard receives irrigation through a newly installed greywater system. Photo: tps]

    Before2 It seemed simple enough to create an alternate drain line that, instead of going to the sewer system, went to a greywater system in the backyard, taking
    advantage of gravity to water our hillside, and perhaps the lower section of the yard. Given wash water is accounts for a large percentage of total household water use, we’d make a large contribution to a greener backyard without any added water. What a deal!

    We contacted Devin Slavin of Abundance in Balance Design and hoped that a consultation with him would give us the knowledge and direction we needed to make this all work well. It sure seemed like the right thing to do. Our family decided to share what we learned here in this post. Water is a precious resource we need to not waste. 

    Backyard It took us about 5 months to complete, but only because we were occasionally slow at taking whatever “the next step” of the project might be from time to time. Our greywater project was finally completed in late July of 2008. We now have an alternate drain line for our laundry that runs under the house, out the back and to a hillside. Every time we do our laundry now, we are watering a different level of the hillside’s many fruit trees and shrubs. And nearly everything we have planted there will provide us with food, too. It’s awesome!

    Here’s a breakdown of the project. First of all, major props go out to Devin for overseeing, planning and helping us execute this project. He helped not only do it, but do it right.

    Before2As you can see, the hillside has some terraces in it and plenty of slope. Using this slope to our advantage for watering was what made this project seem like such an obvious thing to do.


    We had to fence off the new planting area from our oh-so-bad dog (he would simply Before1have to dig things up to see what we put in of course). I used simple chicken wire and stakes to do this as our dog, thankfully, isn’t a jumper.

    One of the more major steps was tearing out a wall out in the laundry room to install the alternate drain line, but that wasn’t so bad. Climbing under the house and routing the ABS pipe out a vent to the crawl space and then over some steps to the back slope was more challenging. We’ve since had the floor replaced in the laundry room, along with new wallboard. Now we can choose to route water to the backyard, or to the sewer if there was ever a need.

    Pipes Devin devised a great valve system (photo above) that allows us to turn on one level at a time. We simply flip a couple of switches with each laundry load and this allows us to get water to any of the four different levels on the hillside. He spent a day carefully grading the four different levels in the terraces so that the water would flow properly. This is a low pressure system that relies on gravity to disperse all of the water. If the water is allowed to sit in one place, it becomes blackwater, not graywater. Yuck!

    Pipes2 We used polyethylene tubing for the water lines. This tubing, while more expensive, is way better environmentally than PVC and its flexible nature makes it pretty simple to work with, too. It also withstands UV rays better. Most of this bright yellow tubing is covered up by 4 to 5 inches of mulch, too.Finished1

    We planted several different fruit trees and berry bushes, with everything having a gopher basket, too. There are “tee” connectors that feed water to each of these plants that we easily spliced into the yellow lines. We then got mulch from a community garden nearby and put layers of it all around.

    Finished2 We spent a fair amount on this project, but knowing that our hillside is now well landscaped, a source of food, and really easy to maintain, made it all worthwhile. We’re very happy with the results.

    [All photos: tps]


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