How I learned to love greywater

Art Ludwig
Lives and breathes greywater

Art Ludwig, author of Create an Oasis with Greywater has been living off-grid since he was 15. Here he describes how it all began. Tomorrow’s he will excerpt an introduction to managing Greywater from his new book.

On Christmas Eve of the year I turned 15, my present to the family was to move into a decaying tack room in the lower reaches of our backyard. The plumbing consisted of a lone garden faucet outside. If I could deal with a lack of plumbing while backpacking, I reasoned, I could deal with this. The eco-cidal adult establishment thought it needed all that over-engineered infrastructure, but I surely didn’t.
To my family’s delight, I maintained an independent household based on the faucet and later improvements (wood-heated outdoor bathtub, etc.). In fact, my systems became so refined I didn’t leave until I had a wife and a two year old daughter, 14 years later.
During a break in my backyard stay, I bicycled around the world for three years, witnessing myriad philosophies of wastewater management.

(Visit Art Ludwig’s web site)

Later, I studied ecological design at UC Berkeley. My thesis was that every house should be surrounded by an oasis of biological productivity nourished by the flow of nutrients and water from the home. Most elements added to water in the home are nutritious for plants. If the small amount of toxins in cleaners could be eliminated, washwater could nurture an edible landscape sustainably.

However, I found that cleaners biocompatible with plants or soil were not available. But through my research, I learned enough, and befriended enough experts, to assemble a team to create the world’s first plant and soil biocompatible cleaners.
Meanwhile, my hometown of Santa Barbara, in an advanced stage of drying up and blowing away due to prolonged drought, became the first locale in the nation to legalize greywater use for irrigation. Consequently, I took a six year side trip to develop, produce, and market Oasis Biocompatible Cleaners, launched in Santa Barbara on Earth Day, 1990.
The amount of time that my staff and I spent answering questions about greywater plumbing quickly became untenable, so I wrote a book about it. I sold the cleaner business in 1996 and have been consulting, writing, and gardening since then. The Oasis greywater books evolved from an incidental to the main part of my business today.
Our customers entrust us with their darkest greywater secrets, system manufacturers keep us abreast of their offerings, academics appreciate our research, and, as we have become the world’s greywater information central, regulators seek us out for help writing laws.
People have schlepped greywater around in buckets since time immemorial. However, the modern generation of systems, which attempt automated, efficient delivery, have been in use only a few decades. Legal requirements favor engineering overkill, while the simple and economical methods the ones that people actually use remain technically illegal. Happily, visionary jurisdictions such as Arizona, New Mexico, and Texas are starting a strong new trend toward rational regulation. Even so, most government agencies and contractors still know little about practical greywater systems. And, in jurisdictions where practical systems remain illegal, they can’t help you anyway. This information void leaves hundreds of thousands of do-it-yourself to reinvent the wheel with little useful guidance.
Art Ludwig
San Jose Creek, Santa Barbara, California

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