Don’t hate her because her lawn is beautiful.
While most homeowners have accepted dry, brown lawns due to enforced watering restrictions, El Dorado Hills resident Marie Levy’s grass is vibrant and her water bill is 60 percent less than it used to be.
“We’re always having a drought here in California so I’m always thinking of ways to conserve water,” Levy said of her habit that began years ago. “It’s really easy, actually. It’s just figuring out the plumbing.”
By creating her home’s water-saving infrastructure with support from her father, husband and adult son, Levy says she “can water her lawn every day as long as there’s laundry water in the tank.”
That laundry water is stored in two, 1000-gallon tanks in her sideyard, the key component to a wastewater recycling system the family created.
“My husband Lew consolidates captured water (which comes from buckets used in the kitchen and showers),” said Levy.
Instead of using EID water, this water is used to start the washing machine via an inexpensive, flexible pipe, which is diverted to a hose outside and into the storage tanks instead of down the sewer.
Levy use biodegradable detergent so the laundry water can be used outdoors. “It’s completely safe,” she said. “If we need to use bleach we use the regular piping. Rinse cycle water always comes from EID, though it’s also captured and goes into the tank.”
Levy said her family of four does approximately six loads of laundry a week, which adds up to 35 to 50 gallons added to the tanks.
With a one-half horsepower pump, the water is moved through the piping, into a hose and then into one of the two storage tanks. Levy’s father even created a system to see how full each tank is. “He’s very clever,” she said.
The tanks cost $400 each, though thanks to the family’s lower water bill they’ve already made the money back.
Levy fights odor by adding a biodegradable septic tank additive and recommends a black or dark color tank to keep algae from growing.
Because of a 10-foot drop, tank water gravity feeds downhill into drippers that run the sprinklers.
“We have a sprinkler system but we hardly ever use it,” said Levy. “Watering for an hour only brings the water in the tank down about 4 inches and an inch is 13 gallons.
“That’s the thing I’m proudest of,” continued Levy. “For the first load of laundry we’re using it three times. From the shower to the washing machine to the storage tank which waters the yard. Everything else is used twice. The shower water also goes to the dogs, plants and birds.”
Levy said it’s really not the complex. “All you have to do is ask, ‘What do I have to do to push out the water and where does it go when it reaches a certain level?’ You can store laundry water in new trash cans instead of buying the big tanks if you want to,” she said.
Their system came with trial and error.
“At first laundry lint would clog the sprinkler. So we suspended it,” she said. “Not a lot of pressure was coming out of the tank with only a 10-foot drop so we figured out how to add the pumps, which you can get at any hardware store.”
Not counting out being a consultant for others who’d like to build a similar system, Levy mused, “You could build a house with all of this already in it.”
For beginning water savers Levy recommends starting with rain barrels. She has four, 60-gallon barrels connected to her rainspout next to her home. “The rainspout goes into one barrel and then flows into the second and so on until they’re all filled.” A hose and spigot run under each one.
Even though the last rain was months ago, one barrel is still nearly full. Levy uses this water for individual potted plants as it gravity feeds through a hose to her greenhouse and garden. “Even if you don’t have a slope you can get the water right out of the rain barrels and put it in a watering can,” she said.
A lid and screen keep the barrels protected from mosquitos and algae growth.
When the pool gets overfilled from rain Levy said she pumps that water back into the rain barrels. “Then you can use that water to refill the pool in the winter,” she said. “That saved us 200 gallons of water right there. That water is chlorinated so can’t be used for anything else anyway.”
The family started water saving when they moved into their home in 2003 by doing simple things. “We turned off the water when we brushed our teeth,” said Levy. “Since the drought has gotten worse Lew has started taking Navy showers (turn the water on, then turn off to soap up and turn back on only to rinse) and I decided not to raise as many plants.”
They also have solar panels, tankless water heaters, a condensation pipe coming out of the air conditioner and recently changed the landscaping in front and back to include more rocks.
“I’m in IT,” laughed Levy, “but I do know about construction and how things are put together. We can capture water just about everywhere.”
Levy said they will be selling their house soon and will build the same system at their new 5-acre property in Shingle Springs.
“It doesn’t matter how old your home is, you can do these things,” said Levy. “If you’re building a new house you can certainly build the pipes into the wall in the laundry room. If they have a rain gutter at the new house, the first thing I plan on doing is putting rain barrels under it. It’s easy, a no brainer.”
“It’s kind of a routine we don’t think about. We just know every drop of water counts,” said Levy. “If people can do this and save water, it helps all of us.”