Cottonwood Goes Gray

Cottonwood, AZ – SFX: shower

When Donna Lay takes a shower, she's helping the environment.

LAY: I just turned on the water and it's going down the drain. My husband has cut into the plumbing and we've got two mulch basins outside our home and when we take a shower we're watering our plants (turns off shower).

She takes comfort in knowing that she's reusing her water on her yard instead of tapping into her drinking water source.

LAY: I just am the kind of person who never likes to waste anything at all. You keep hearing drought. We're nine years into a 30 year drought. And I realized that we've got a great resource that everyday is just literally going down the drain.

Not only is Lay taking showers guilt free, she's also earning a tax credit. As of the first of the year Arizona taxpayers who install a water conservation system may take a one-time tax credit of 25 percent of the cost of their system up to 1000 dollars. And builders and landscape architects also benefit. They're eligible for a 200-dollar tax credit for each home where they install a gray water or rain harvesting system. And it doesn't cost much to install.

Art Ludwig, one of the leading experts on gray water, says it typically costs about 200 dollars for the basic materials and plumbing.

Ludwig says Arizona is a leader in allowing and encouraging the use of gray water.

LUDWIG: You all are light years ahead gray water didn't use to be regulated if you go to rural buildings 70-100 years old they all are on gray water with a drain out back just a pipe pointing outside the building (laughs) and then with the advent of modern plumbing codes gray water became illegal.

California became the first state to legalize gray water in 1994 and Arizona soon followed. But unlike California, Arizona doesn't require any formal approval. The Arizona Department of Environmental Quality Director Steve Owens says all they ask is that Arizonans follow certain guidelines like labeling pipes and keeping gray water on your own property.

OWENS: In a state like Arizona where we do have limited water supplies the more we can do to conserve water supplies to reuse water to the greatest extent possible then the better off we're going to be.

Gray water expert Art Ludwig recently visited Cottonwood along with rainwater harvesting expert Brad Lancaster to teach people about water conservation systems. (bring in workshop amby) Lancaster and Ludwig showed a group of homeowners, plumbers and landscape architects how to install a system.

LANCASTER: So when we pull the gray water out we're going to be getting water to those grapes and potentially two trees here

Some people are concerned about watering edible plants with gray water but Lancaster says as long as it doesn't touch the vegetables directly - only the roots -- it's ok. He says the topsoil serves as a filter. Both Lancaster and Ludwig say they've never heard of any health problems associated with gray water.

Karen Taylor helped organize the workshop. She says now that Cottonwood has this ordinance the next step is educating people on how to take advantage of it.

TAYLOR: The goal is gray water first, rainwater as a secondary source of irrigation and then city water as the last measure. And right now it's kind of the reverse city water first and if it rains great (laughs).

She hopes with more workshops like these, more people will choose gray water first. Experts say if everyone used gray water on their yards instead of their regular drinking water supply the impact would be quite significant. And it could eventually alleviate some of the pressure on other water sources.

For Arizona Public Radio I'm Laurel Morales in Cottonwood.