Greywater Guerrillas: No Water Down the Drain in Vain

Some reuse water from sinks and showers, or even have waterless toilets.

ByABC News
August 21, 2007, 12:12 PM

Aug. 21, 2007 — -- Just outside Berkeley, Calif. -- the historical hotbed of resistance and revolution -- an insurrection is brewing. But this insurrection isn't about war and peace it's about plumbing.

"We have severed pipes, we've dug trenches, we've removed concrete, we've drawn pictures," said Cleo Woelfle-Erskine.

"When I learned how this lifestyle of using water and dumping it down the drain was affecting the world, I wanted to live a different way," Laura Allen said.

One think tank estimates that Americans use two and a half times as much water as is necessary to survive comfortably.

Allen and Woelfle-Erskine are founding members of a group called the Greywater Guerrillas. What they are doing with water is simple yet subversive, a bit imaginative, and a bit illegal. And it all starts with the pipes outside their own homes.

"So, the guerilla nature of our projects happen right here, when you cut into your plumbing and you're reusing your water for a second use," said Allen, standing next to the pipes outside her home.

"It's not dirty, it's not contaminated. It's just some water with a little bit of soap in it and some dirt," said Woelfle-Erskine.

Gray water is the water that goes down the drain from your showers, sinks and washing machines. Humans would never want to drink it or wash in it, but it turns out that most lawns and most things in a garden love it. Allen and Woelfle-Erskine use theirs to feed a bed of tomatoes.

"The soaps that are in [the water] are actually plant nutrients," explained Woelfle-Erksine. "So there is phosphate in soap. There might be nitrates."

The Greywater Guerilla lair is rigged to take advantage of every last drop of gray water.

"This is one of the most basic gray water systems you can make. It takes five minutes," Allen said, pointing to her own system. "So when you're washing your hands or brushing your teeth this is called gray water. Now you can use it to water plants or flush your toilet."

"It's about a 100 gallons a day that we're saving from the irrigation and from not flushing the toilet," she added.

And that's not just a drop in the bucket, as the Southeast and Southwest are facing major water shortages.

Allen and Woelfle-Erskine were inspired to build their first system by a very large water bill. Back in 1999, they were plumbing neophytes, so Allen decided she'd better take a plumbing class.