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Why have a Grey Water **system**?  RSS feed

 
Ryder Spearmann
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I'm no expert... but I have been looking about the web, and see tons of grey water *systems*... tanks, pumps, valves, switches, and on and on and on.  But it seems to me that the secret of grey water use is getting it in to the ground as fast as you can, and letting nature do it's thing.

Am I wrong about this?

It seems to me that the best thing to do is to make a trench... shallower at the input end.... and deeper on the other end (so water can flow)... fill it with wood chips... perhaps cover that with soil to "seal it up", and then run grey directly into it... planting to the left and right of the trench.  I guess I just don't get why people are so keen on holding tanks, strainers, switches... why do all that?

What am I missing?

Thank you!

r
 
Roberto pokachinni
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Hi Ryder.  If nobody has done so thus far, I will welcome you to Permies, right now.    Welcome! 

You are right to question what you see as over-complicating a simple thing.  It's good to ask questions.

I guess I just don't get why people are so keen on holding tanks, strainers, switches... why do all that?

What am I missing?
I don't think you are missing anything with that question.  None of that is really necessary, the way I see it, but some of those things might be necessary depending on the needs or desires of the person and his or her landscape; but I will have to clarify what I mean.  I think you are right to question the over-complication of these things, and that the simpler the system is, the simpler it is to build, maintain, and generally deal with into the future.

When you write:
the secret of grey water use is getting it in to the ground as fast as you can, and letting nature do it's thing. 
  I have to respond: Maybe.  But it might not be getting the best use out of it.  Without a really good biological system already in place, a trench of this nature can create an anaerobic slime seal and back up on itself, or (in an area like mine) can get penetrated by a deep frost, stopping flow. 

My guess as to why this (want to build systems) is so, and why people are apt to not simply build a trench and plant around it ( which might be fine for most people's needs )  is that there is a thing that we tend to want to do in permaculture where we try to get the most out of something before we potentially lose it from our system.  We use water, for instance, as many times as we can, before it eventually finds it's way off the property; the same for flows of nutrients.  When someone develops a gray water system, the purpose, as far as my thinking goes, is to try to get the most out of the nutrients, and the water, before it can leach into the groundwater system (which it has the potential to do in a sloped trench-especially in winter in cold regions).

My own plan is to have my gray water dump directly from an open vented pipe into a basin of large stones, which will draw out the possible heat from a hot shower so that the heat doesn't harm the roots of plants or the microbes that will do the magic shortly thereafter.  The large stones would be surrounded by deep mulch bottomed by stones and sand (with much of the mulch well over the depth of water flow) in which I am growing comfrey and mint and maybe other plants.  These will be good plants for wet areas, and will also provide good habitat for earth worms, which will thrive in the microbial rich mulch that is straining the liquids..  I can take chop and drop from the comfrey to place on top of the compost area, which is right after the mulch, direct soak nutrient filter area and this is where the compost worms are; they further take on the task of transforming the nutrient flow into something useful.  The water flows through the system, before it leaves the house, possibly growing edible herbs and salad stuff in deep mulch still in the house.  After leaving the house, the plan is to have the water go to a greenhouse downslope of the house, where the still nutrient rich gray water will be filtered through a flow system of deep mulch and mud with cattails, bulrushes, horsetails, nettles, mint, yarrow, and maybe a few more plants.  At this point, I am hoping that the majority of the water has been turned to plant matter (all of which can be harvested for quality compost materials for soil building in the garden).  There is a possibility that this second stage of the system might also be incorporated inside the house, as they do in advanced Earthships.  By this time, if there is water left, it will be clean enough to have it drop a gold fish tank.  At any rate, my system is designed to get the gray water into the plant systems, and soil building systems as soon as possible and to utilize it in it's entirety so that it does not get into the ground water system.  In my case, preventing the system from freezing is also paramount.  I do not want to build a septic system at all.  My personal wastes (that would normally create black water) will be composted.  

The intention is to close the loop, and Return The Surpluses back into the System.  This is the third Ethic of Permculture, after Earth Care and People Care.  

I agree that the simpler that this task can be achieved the better, as it would be a waste of resources to have it be otherwise.  I see no need for tanks, pumps, valves, switches; but I have the benefit of a slope, and the gravity that effects things on it.  The Earth and plants do the filtering, but I control how that happens, and I try to get the most out of it, and possibly pretty much all of it.  

I hope that answer was not overly complicated.

I just wanted you to get a firm grasp of where my brain was at, so that you can see a rationalized expression of the need for a system.
 
Ryder Spearmann
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Well it sure sounds like you are doing all you can to simplify it!

In my case, I'm in California, and freezing is not ever going to be an issue.

I am also not intending to absolutely maximize usage... I was thinking about essentially irrigating a planter box (from my tiny house... which produces very little waste water... and NO black water).

I thought I could start high in one side of the planter... with soil/mulch layers at a sloping angle, possibly a liner in the planter that is also not flat (angled)... then at the opposite end of the planter, move the water into a trench with more mulch and have it serpentine around a few young trees.

You do bring up a good concern though... something about an "anaerobic slime seal" which I don't know exactly what that is... but I can picture what it must be like.  So I guess some thought must be given to preventing blockages... and in this case you are implicating a lack of air.  I guess that is why I mentioned just passing it though mulch (just something I've heard being used a lot).  For the most simple gravity flow situation... how does one plan to avoid such a blockage?  I assume with providing for the right biology, yes?

Thank you for your detailed answer!


 
Roberto pokachinni
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You do bring up a good concern though... something about an "anaerobic slime seal" which I don't know exactly what that is... but I can picture what it must be like.  So I guess some thought must be given to preventing blockages... and in this case you are implicating a lack of air.  I guess that is why I mentioned just passing it though mulch (just something I've heard being used a lot).  For the most simple gravity flow situation... how does one plan to avoid such a blockage?  I assume with providing for the right biology, yes?
What is often done in situations/projects like you are describing is to have your exit pipe open up in your trench under something that amounts to a half barrel, cut from top to bottom. The open cut flat edges side faces down, and the half round side without edges faces up.  Some people use plastic for this barrel.  It lasts longer underground.  They actually sell something designed for this purpose.   The purpose of the barrel is twofold: To keep tree roots out (via air pruning) and to provide air.  The best thing that you can do, beyond that is to get worms active in your trench.  They will provide drainage and will consume microbes (both anaerobic and aerobic), creating humus which will allow most of the nutrients and the water to be held in the soil systems/be available to plants. 
Well it sure sounds like you are doing all you can to simplify it! 
   Well, not simple, but without all the technology that you mentioned.  Simple in that the pipe just drops it in, and simple that I am still direct as soon as possible to plants.
 
Peter VanDerWal
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Different goals and/or legal requirements.

The international Building Code has some requirements for grey water systems like filters, grease traps, settling tanks, valves to switch it back to black water system, etc.

In other cases people have different goals.  If all you want to do is get rid of the grey water, then a simple trench can be effective.  Some people have existing landscape, or specific plans for landscape that require more complicated "branched drain" systems to distribute the grey water to multiple locations.

Generally speaking a grey water system should be as simple as possible to meet your goals.

Then you have people like me that have a desire to stop depleting the water table and switch to using only rain water.  Unfortunately, we tend to get 75-100% of our annual rainfall in just 2-3 months. While storing enough rainwater for the entire year is possible, it's cheaper and uses less resources to clean up a portion of our grey water and store it for a couple months when needed.
 
Stacy Witscher
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I use a hose to move my greywater from place to place. This minimizes buildup in any one spot. I find the hose easier to clean than a fixed pipe system. Of course, it does require more attention. I have to move the hose, and empty the dregs.
 
Travis Johnson
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I think the true secret of gray water system is knowing and using proper products going into it.

The reasons laws and regulations require so much from grey water systems is that in a typical home, it is probable that chlorine bleach, ammonia, and acids make their way into the system, not to mention paints, solvents and grease. It might be as innocent as diesel fuel being spilled on a jacket while filling a farm tractor and then being laundered, or as environmentally abusive as dumping paint down a utility sink so that the can itself can be disposed in a dumpster somewhere.

Most of us that have gray water systems that get diverted to better uses then simply filling up our black water tanks, are VERY diligent on what gets put into the system. In short we are ethical and responsible; no system required. However from a governmental point of view, what if that person sells their home to a less environmentally desirable person, or the residence is existing 100 years after that persons demise?

You are indeed right, a one pipe trench system is completely adequate, but my inlaws who lived on a major river in New Hampshire can also remember seeing bubbles in the river about 20 minutes before their neighbor hung laundry up on the clothesline.

In my own town, the Maine Dept of Environmental Protection made an outrageous claim that our local lake was polluted by farmers. It was impossible, we only have 10% of the land base here as farmland. So the local Soil and Water Conservation District hired divers to enter the lake knowing the cause of pollution. They only had to follow a few pipes back to houses along the lake to make their point, farmers were NOT to blame. These former camps were converted to year around homes and thus they just tapped into the former gray water systems to save building expensive leach fields; yes they were dumping black water (human waste) into the lake!
 
wayne fajkus
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My state law dictates a lot of what you are describing as unneeded.

No puddling of gray water and no discharge of gray water when puddles exist (dont discharge in the rain). We are required to have tanks that hold 3 days worth of graywater.

So a valve is needed to prevent the discharge during rain.

A pipe is needed to get it underground.

A back water valve (back flow preventer) is also needed.
 
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