Making Lemonade

No, the lemon tree is not yet producing lemons. I'm talking about taking a bad situation and turning it into something really useful and valuable. And in this case, that bad situation is our little water supply in the basement.

Yesterday I measured it at 1 gal/minute. That's a decent amount of water (1440 gallons per day). I don't have to tell the Californians in the group how precious that much water is. Get super-conservative on the numbers, and we can count on 360 gallons a day, which is actually more than we currently consume for the whole house (keep in mind that we're not really irrigating much right now because it's winter and the sky is handling it for us). It seems a shame to remove good, clean water from the aquifer and dump it into the San Francisco Bay (which is where our storm drains go; actually, I think they go into the estuary first, but same diff).

So why not use it for irrigation?

For the last several months I have been somewhat half-assedly designing a cistern/pump/irrigation system for the yard, and I figure that with a 5,000 gallon tank, we can float out (heh) even the lowest-water years without ever once having to irrigate with tap water. On heavy years, we could flush our toilets in addition to irrigating with the free water all year round. This makes me incredibly happy, because it means saving a resource I care a lot about (water) and also doing all kinds of funky eco-weenie things with the house.

I'm not 100 percent keen on digging up the yard again, understandably, but the best place to locate the water tank would be right behind the house in the spot where we plan to build a deck (which could conceal the tank). I considered a water tower (traditional for Alameda), but to get the pressure we'd need we'd need a variance. Also, it would be a real earthquake danger. A pressure booster tank is actually a saner idea and not too expensive to run.

So what kind of permission do you need to do such things? You need a health department approval, for one thing, and planning permission and a plumbing inspection and special purple piping for the non-potable water lines if we do bring water in to flush the toilets. But, all things considered, it's not that much. You need to do more to be allowed to dump greywater in your yard, which in general Alameda seems to be averse to allowing, but we're proposing to sort of do the opposite: introduce besoiled rainwater into the sewage system. As much as I'd love to drink and wash and everything with local water, then dump it in the yard for a cycle around again, that's not really appropriate on a lot the size of ours with soils like ours (very thin and sandy).

But first, I need to find a testing lab that will tell us whether the water under the house is clean or not.

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posted by ayse on 03/23/06