Making Every Drop Count

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Eco Friendly Rain Barrels

Capture Laguna’s precious fresh water using rain barrels and grey water systems.-By Sharael Kolberg

There is a proverb that says, “You never miss the water until the well runs dry.” In a city like Laguna Beach, where every drop of our potable water is imported, residents are taking action to prevent the well from running dry. They are not just turning off faucets and washing with full loads; they are taking it one step further to find water that is free and available.

Capturing the Rain

In Laguna Beach, you won’t hear eco-conscious residents singing, “Rain, rain, go away.” They want the rain to stay … at least for a little while. Why? So they can harvest it and use it to water their plants. How? With rain barrels. Rain barrels are made to collect and store rainwater. They are most efficient if gutters and rain chains are used to direct water coming off a roof. The harvest can be used to water indoor and outdoor plants, irrigate lawns and wash cars. It is not meant for drinking. These days, barrels come in all shapes, sizes and designs.

Resident Max Isles recently opted for an 865-gallon round tank for his home. As it was being unloaded, neighbors walked by and looked on with curiosity. He does not buy into the myth that Southern Californians don’t need rain barrels because “it never rains here.” Instead, he chooses to save water, save money and be prepared for a water shortage. “In case of an earthquake or emergency, it’s nice to know we have our own water stored, especially since Laguna Beach imports 100 percent of its water,” Max says.

Max, a founding member of Transition Laguna Beach, believes in being self-sufficient. “The movement is about increasing your resilience and reducing your dependency on other systems—electricity to get water here, aquifers, emergency preparedness and reducing demand on the main water supply and the Colorado River.”

For those who prefer not to have an obtrusive wooden barrel in their yard, the Laguna Beach County Water District has a more decorative 65-gallon barrel that looks like a terra cotta planter on display. Assistant general manager Christopher J. Regan says, “We have to use what water we have efficiently. That includes using rain barrels. Rain barrels also reduce pollution by reducing storm water runoff.”

So, just how much rain can we catch here in Laguna Beach? It depends on the size of your roof and the amount of rainfall. According to the water district, Laguna gets about 13 inches of rain per year. With a 2,000-square-foot roof, that would equal about 15,000 gallons. That’s a lot of free water falling from the sky—just don’t try and drink it.

The district office recently installed two 300-gallon rainwater catchment containers to irrigate the garden landscape just in time for “Water Awareness Month” in May. The district is also promoting the use of rain barrels through its annual “Roll Out the Rain Barrel” art contest, which encourages residents to design artwork to be painted onto rain barrels displayed around town.

At Anneliese School’s campus in the canyon last year, Brad Lancaster, author and expert on rainwater harvesting, taught a workshop on how to install rain gardens made to slow the flow and direct rainwater into the soil.

Grey Water is Great Water

To some residents, grey water is not so black and white. According to the California Plumbing Code, grey water is defined as wastewater from bathtubs, showers, bathroom washbasins and washing machines, and does not include any water that came into contact with food. Water from toilets is called black water and is unusable sewage.

For Laguna Beach residents wanting to save even more water by installing a grey water system at home, no permit is required for a single domestic clothes washer system or a single-fixture system collecting grey water from one plumbing source. However, a notice does need to be filed with the city for these systems.

“There are always ecological and biological concerns with grey water usage,” says Laguna Beach Building Official Carl Hefner. “Health is the main thing since there is a potential for contamination.”

Mike Dunbar, general manager of the South Coast Water District agrees and says, “Grey water is an additional source of water, but the key is that it’s done correctly so that you don’t create a bigger problem with contaminated water.”

To ensure the safety of grey water, proper guidelines must be followed, such as the use of biodegradable detergents and soaps. The suggested use of grey water is for underground landscape irrigation, not including edibles.

For children playing on the lawn, I’d be more concerned about the use of fertilizers than grey water irrigation,” Carl says. “Grey water saturates, dissipates and evaporates, which causes less concern of possible exposure.”

So, is the effort worth the payoff? For households with three people that take five-minute showers daily, the homeowner can recycle about 20 gallons a day.

For those, like Max Isles, who are water conscious, it’s worth the investment to not only save money, but also the planet. “I like the idea of not having to stress about taking a longer shower,” Max says. “People who are worried about contaminants in the water should be thinking more about the toxins in the cleaners they are using to wash with.”

Although grey water systems have been slow to catch on in Laguna Beach, Carl hopes to see that change. “In the long run, it’s a good way to go, especially for younger generations,” he says. “If we could be the pioneers, it would be really good for the future.” LBM

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