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Graywater Use in Santa Cruz

Laundry-to-Landscape Rebate Program

At this time staff in the water conservation section are being temporarily re-assigned to other pressing projects.  Please be aware that processing of rebate applications will be delayed.

Save water. Save your garden. Attend a laundry-to-landscape workshop to learn about graywater system design and installation. The water conservation office offers a $150 rebate for customers who attend a workshop and/or have a laundry-to-landscape system installed by a professional installer that is listed on the Central Coast Greywater Alliance Installer Directory

Rebate application

Installation and Maintenance Agreement (City residents)


GraywaterWhat is Graywater?

Graywater (also spelled greywater) is untreated water that drains from your clothes washer, bathtub, shower, or bathroom sink. Graywater has low levels of contaminants, but when handled properly, it can be used for nonpotable purposes such as landscape irrigation.

Blackwater is water that drains from the toilet, dishwasher, or kitchen sink. This water has high contaminant levels and cannot be reused; it must go straight to the sewer.

-Do not store graywater. The microbial contaminants will multiply and quickly turn your graywater into blackwater and can harm humans and animals.
-Apply graywater only below the surface. Graywater applied above ground can harm humans and animals.
-Contaminated vegetables: Do not eat vegetables that have come in direct contact with graywater.
-Soiled washer water from diapers or oily rags must be diverted to the sewer, not the landscape.
-Eliminate ponding or runoff by diverting your graywater to the sewer during the rainy season.



Types of Graywater Systems
Laundry-to-Landscape greywater systems deliver water directly from your clothes washer to sub-surface distribution points in your garden. You can legally install these systems without a permit as long as it conforms to the requirements in Chapter 16A of the California Plumbing Code. In addition, customers who install a Laundry-to-landscape system within the City of Santa Cruz must file an Installation and Maintenance Agreement Form with the City of Santa Cruz Public Works department. See the following links for more information:
Laundry-to-landscape information sheet
State regulations for home graywater systems

Other graywater systems include those that drain from a bathtub, shower, or bathroom sink, modify existing plumbing piping, or treat the water to be reused. These systems require a permit. If you live inside the City of Santa Cruz, you must submit plans to both the City Building/Planning Department and County Environmental Health Services. If you live outside the City of Santa Cruz, you need a permit from County Environmental Health Services. The following links provide more information about graywater permits:
Santa Cruz County Graywater Information
Santa Cruz County graywater permit requirements
City of Santa Cruz Building Department graywater guidelines
City of Santa Cruz graywater permit requirements

 Laundry-to-Landscape graywater planning

  • How much graywater do you produce? How many laundry loads do you do each week?   
    How many gallons per load does your clothes washer use? Knowing your potential graywater output will help you design a successful system.
  • What to irrigate: trees, fruit trees, shrubs, bushes, vines, perrenials, and large annuals thrive with graywater.
  • What not to irrigate: Lawns, drought tolerant plants, sensitive plants, root vegetables, and raised beds. Lawns require surface irrigation, but graywater cannot be applied safely at the surface. Drought established plants will drown in the frequent, heavy irrigation from your clothes washer. Sensitive plants, like ferns, cannot thrive with graywater's high pH level. Root vegetables would come in direct contact with graywater and become unsafe to eat.
  • How much water your plants need. Choose the right amount of plants to match your graywater output.
  • 3-way valve and auto vent anti-syphon. You must install a 3-way valve on your washer to direct the water either to the landscape or to the sewer. The valve must have a sign showing the direction of flow. Remember to switch the flow to the sewer during the rainy season. The auto vent anti-syphon prevents a vacuum from forming inside the pipeline.
  • Graywater path of travel. Graywater systems work best when the clothes washer is no more than 50 feet away from your plants in a flat yard. Does your garden slope uphill or downhill from the washer? Pipes should be 1" poly tubing and stay 1.5 feet from property lines and 100 feet from well, creeks, and storm drains.
  • Distribution points. Your graywater should exit the system through sub-surface, covered mulch basins. Front loading machines can water up to 8 distribution points; old top loaders can water up to 12.
  • Soap products. To keep your garden healthy and safe, AVOID the following laundry products: salts, sodium compounds, boron, borax, borate, peroxygen, petroleum distillate, alkyl benzene, chlorine bleach, water softeners with sodium chloride, and antibacterials.

More Information
Reusing some of your water is a great way to save money, keep your landscape green, and conserve resources.  For additional information, try these links:
Graywater irrigation in Santa Cruz County
Central Coast Greywater Alliance
Greywater Action
California Urban Water Conservation Council's Water Saver Home Tips
Oasis Design Greywater Info
How Stuff Works--Graywater