Laura Allen was one of three women who founded the Greywater Guerrillas more than ten years ago, long before the current drought. They went to plumbing classes, devoured everything written on the subject, boned up on codes and regulations, and acquired a thorough hands-on knowledge of how we use and misuse the elixir of life: water.
Soon they were leading weekend workshops in people’s gardens. That’s how we came to host about a dozen participants on our patio in September 2008 for an hour of educational talks by Allen and her partners Christina Bertea and Andrea Lara, followed by six hours of cutting and crawling and trenching and gluing and sweating. At the end of the day we were tired and dirty, but one of our showers and our washing machine fed irrigation to the garden. Not long after, the trio helped me set up a pair of 500-gallon water tanks and the associated ducting to collect rainwater from the roof. Both of those systems are still working and both tanks are full from the storm we had in early February.
The group has gone on from there to give many dozens of hands-on greywater workshops up and down the state. It has buffed its name to Greywater Action, and has successfully lobbied water authorities like EBMUD, local governments, and even Sacramento to update the plumbing codes to remove antiquated obstacles to home water conservation measures. Their workshops are always full, with waiting lists. Now Allen has put these years of experience into a 250-page volume, The Water-Wise Home. It’s about the same size as the Western Garden books, and destined to become just as treasured and indispensable.
The first part of the book sets the stage for the how-to projects in the remainder. Allen explains where our water comes from, where it goes, and what it impacts along the way. She outlines the challenges and problems of municipal water systems, and the interplay between water use and energy use. One chapter presents a range of simple practical options for saving water at home – fixing leaks, choosing efficient fixtures, and designing water-efficient landscapes.
In part two, Allen focuses on systemic solutions. There are two chapters on greywater, two chapters on rainwater, and a chapter on waterless and composting toilets. The presentations here are an admirable mix of general principles with nitty-gritty details accessible to any halfway handy person.
It’s a pleasure to read Allen’s writing. She handles complex ideas without sounding the least bit academic. She excels at explaining technical issues in layperson’s language. And the illustrations! She’s enlisted truly talented graphic artists who enrich the pages with line drawings that range from simple pipe schematics to gorgeous full-detail pictures of homes and gardens.
This is a timely book, if ever there was one. California’s drought is one of the most daunting issues in our lifetimes, and Allen’s book is up to the challenge. Just as three women led by Sylvia McLaughlin in the 1960s launched a movement to Save the Bay, the founders of Greywater Action are spearheading a movement to Save Our Water. Some aspects of water management – levees, tunnels, canals, San Joaquin Valley groundwater — are not directly in our hands. But there are things we can do, here and now, and Allen’s book shows us how.