Sunday, December 02, 2007

Gray Water


My wife and I recently entertained dinner guests in our home. At one point the dining discussion turned to the drought in the Southeast and the seriousness of the situation in some regions of Georgia. One couple's input enlightened me about a concept they called "gray water". They explained that in some areas of the country, where low rainfall is common, many people there collect their dirty water after dish washing, showers, and laundry to use it a second time for watering lawns, shrubbery or perhaps to flush commodes.

The conversation prompted me to recall a time when I was a teenager living with my mother, father, brother and sister in the early 1960's. My mother had a "ringer type" washing machine like the one in the picture above. This machine was located in the basement of our brick, ranch-style home between Bethania and Tobaccoville in North Carolina. Companions to the washing machine were two rinse tubs made of galvanized metal, square in shape, and mounted on legs the same height as the machine. The rinse tubs were positioned next to the washer on the back side.

There was little that was automated about this system. My mother added water to the machine and tubs by holding a water hose until the proper levels were reached. Dirty clothes and detergent were added to the machine water. A flip of the switch turned on the electric motor which powered the agitator. When enough time passed, the agitator was stopped when she flipped the switch again. The same electric motor turned the two rollers on the ringer. My mother lifted saturated clothes from the machine water and carefully presented each article to the moving rollers which pressed most water from the garment as it moved into the first rinse tub. While the next load washed, she physically agitated the clothes in the rinse bath. Then, she swung the rollers around the pivot point 90 degrees to prepare the clothes to enter the second rinse tub. She repeated manual agitation of the clothes in the second and final rinse. The rollers swung an additional 90 degrees to get into position to press water from the cleaned clothes before they fell into the laundry basket where they remained until she carried them outdoors for solar and wind drying. This was a time consuming and laborious process most people have forgotten or have never known.

Now back to the "gray water" concept. When my father came home from work, he, along with the help of his children, carried this gray water from the washer and tubs to the outdoors to pour around azaleas and other plants surrounding our home. We drained the water into buckets instead of letting the water drain into the septic system. My father was a stickler for conserving water. He often fussed at us for taking too long in showers or letting the spigots flow with too much force. He frequently lowered a weighted stick attached to a rope into the well to measure the water depth. He kept mental notes of these measurements especially during the dry summer months.

We speculated that the detergent water would harm plant life around our house, but it didn't. This habit of using wash water continued for years until we upgraded to a more modern automatic washing machine. We never called it gray water then, but that's what it was in today's terms.

In your own way, be a stickler for clean water conservation like my father and have a good week!

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