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The ModNomad Garden: On Civil Disobedience

The San Francisco Chronicle has a piece up today about the garden here at ModNomad, which is watered primarily by the kitchen sink greywater filtration system we designed for the GoGo Kitchen prototype.

I conceived of doing this activism work around greywater when I learned that kitchen sink drain water filtration and reuse is not legal in California, despite the fact that it's legal in many states, including Arizona, Oregon and Washington. I picked up a copy of the book The Water-Wise Home by Laura Allen, a founder of Oakland-based Greywater Action.

Marin craftsman Kurt Norstad helped us get the plumbing and electric figured out, and we followed plans in Allen's book for a branched drain system with an actuator and diverter valve, so we would have the option to, with the flip of a switch located right by the GoGo, send the kitchen sink water either to the sewer or to a mulch basin in the garden. The mulch basin is a trench we dug that is about 15 inches deep and about 8 feet long, filled with large bark chips that filter the kitchen sink water before it seeps into the ground and provides water to the roots of plants near the basin.

We looked to Amy John Headley, founder of San Francisco-based "do-it-together" landscaping firm Good Gumption to help us design a garden. Certain plants do better with greywater than others, but in general larger plants do better than smaller ones. Amy came up with a plan for a drought-tolerant and climate-appropriate garden. Then she handed us shovels!

I love Amy's model and she gets right in there and shows you how to do everything and works along side you as you get started, but the idea behind her business is to get clients more in tune with their gardens and to learn how to take care of the plants. She also puts together beautiful online manuals describing all the plants in her designs and how to care for them.

Amy also showed me how to put in drip irrigation as back-up to our greywater system. We're looking at all of this as a test garden. I'm learning, from both the greywater experts and from Amy, that finding the balance with the plants and the amount of water we use will be a work-in-progress. Hopefully all the plants will thrive, but if they don't, I now know how to plant them, get safely filtered greywater to them, and how to use back-up drip irrigation when and if necessary.

ModNomadStudio feels it's important to take this stand, to be civilly disobedient and call attention to the fact that California has still not reclassified kitchen sink water as greywater, when most of the states around us have in this time of drought. But current drought or not, water is a big issue we will all face in coming years, and many Californians are already conserving and reusing kitchen sink greywater. It's time the state reclassifies kitchen water and comes up with the necessary regulations to support its use.



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