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Laundry to Landscape Urban Greywater Installation: Greening the Sonoran Desert (Phoenix, Arizona)

This past November (2013), Watershed Management Group’s Green Living Co-op installed a "Laundry to Landscape" greywater system at my house.

Enthusiastic co-op member ready to dig in!

The Green Living Co-op runs on a barn-raising principle — basically you earn ‘hours’ by participating in other members’ projects.  After you’ve earned a set amount of hours, you qualify to host a workshop at your house.

The sign is out and the tools laid out, waiting for eager hands to wield them.

A co-op project manager works with you to design the system and oversees the project work.

Phoenix Green Living Co-op Program Manager, Ryan Wood, takes preliminary measurements
with the laser level to determine where one infiltration basin will overflow to the next one.

Team leads also provide educational information along the way.

Team leader, Kat, explains the layout of the water harvesting earthworks
to workshop participants.

The end result of the workshop is that the homeowner gets a well-designed project installed with free labor.

The happy co-op crew ‘infiltrating’ the new greywater basin.

The participants get hands-on practice building out these projects.

Transplanting bush ruellia into the infiltration basin.

And with an experienced designer to lead you through the steps, co-op members gain confidence that they can do this!

Kat illustrating measuring levels with a bunyip

Plus everyone has a lot of fun.

Kat demonstrating superhuman strength as she fits a ‘green head’ emitter into polytubing

This workshop was inadvertently held on the same day as our annual neighborhood yard sale. Many of the potential shoppers stopped by to see what we were up to because we were having so much fun.

A couple of people perusing yard sale items in the neighborhood had to
find out what we were up to!

Here’s a short video showing the progression from pre-planning, through the day of the installation and the subsequent test run of my new "Laundry to Landscape" system.  I love it!

Benefits of reusing greywater

Here’s how this project fits into the overall plan for my front yard, which faces west, here in Phoenix, Arizona:

  • It provides water for overhead tree canopy coverage on this western exposure – the hottest side of my house.
  • It provides water for vines growing up a trellis in front of my patio and my big, west-facing windows. These vines will act as solar baffles for the low western setting sun that sneaks in under the tree canopy in the evening and which currently heats up the mass of my brick house and transfers that heat inside. When you’re dealing with 100 days of 100°F+ temps (30 of those days between 110 – 120°F), the very last thing you want is the setting sun taking one final opportunity to add more heat to your living space!

Exterior blinds help keep late evening sun from heating up my house

  • With only 7.5” of annual rainfall in Phoenix, we need to use water wisely. Reusing greywater is a great way to grow desert-adapted trees, shrubs, vines and more – essentially slowing down and capturing more ‘energy’ from this element instead of letting it flow into the municipal sewer system. These native and xeric plants function to attract native pollinators, cover the ground to hold moisture, provide shade, provide food and act as a living air conditioner making the whole property cooler and more pleasant to be in. It is regularly 10-20° F cooler on my property when compared with properties that have predominantly grass or rock landscaping.
  • The reclaimed water and the woody mulch in the infiltration basins help build more fertile, biologically-active soils. Over time, this will alter the texture of our highly compacted clay soil, allowing an ever greater range of plants to grow and fill in various niches.
  • There is also a very important community aspect to this project. Because I live in the urban core of the largest dryland city in the USA (and the 6th largest metro area overall), showcasing working projects that are viewable to passersby is a big goal of mine. People like to see how something works – what it looks like, what it feels like. A well maintained project with an informational sign or two, an invitation to tour the site and maybe a related “Introduction to Permaculture” class, will greatly increase the acceptance and implementation of similar projects throughout the neighborhood and beyond.

So basically, we desert dwellers need to get over the prevailing ‘squick factor’ that western culture tends to have around reusing greywater and embrace this valuable resource as one of the major forces in re-greening our deserts.


  1. Curious: is this content aimed at promoting WMG? ..

    or is it promote knowledge on HOW to install a Laundry to Landscape Urgan Greywater system?

  2. Dear “Who”:

    Short answer – both.

    Regarding “how” to install a Laundry to Landscape (L2L) system: If you haven’t already, watch the video. The first 9 minutes or so outlines the various components of the system (piping, tubing, basins, plants supported, etc.) The rest of the video shows the system at work and describes how harvesting greywater from my washing machine will grow plants that will ultimately save me money on my electricity bill by shading the western façade of my house.

    Is the video a step-by-step recipe for creating a “laundry to landscape” system complete with schematics and earthworks design? No. Whole chapters in books have been written about such things. For more detailed information check out these two fantastic resources on the components of this system – greywater and earthworks:

    Art Ludwig’s “The New Create an Oasis with Greywater: Choosing, Building and Using Greywater Systems – Includes Branched Drains”
    Brad Lancaster’s “Rainwater Harvesting for Drylands and Beyond (Vol. 2): Water-Harvesting Earthworks”

    Regarding promoting Watershed Management Group (WMG): This article does indeed celebrate Watershed Management Group’s very effective model of building both community and water harvesting skills through participation in its Green Living Co-op (free).

    As you know, permaculture is about building resilient systems. One of the most important systems in permaculture is the “people” system. WMG’s Green Living Co-op builds “people-system resilience” by teaching valuable skills and building community. WMG takes water harvesting knowledge out of the theoretical realm and into the practical realm by providing guided workshops where participants get hands-on experience in all the elements that go into creating a system. Participants build confidence that will allow them to design and implement their own systems. At the same, participating in a group project builds community.

    The end result – the water harvesting system itself – provides many benefits to both the homeowner and the city itself by decreasing reliance on municipal water while increasing biomass and beauty. When you multiply this benefit by the hundreds of projects that WMG has help bring to fruition across the low desert – well, I think that merits some well-deserved praise and promotion as a valuable model to follow!

    1. Thanks. Scrolling through the pictures (starting from pic #2), my interest wavered. .. I shall now proceed to watch the video. Once again, thanks for posting this.

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