The Q&A Archives: Using Gray Water

Question: I live on St. Croix, U.S. Virgin Islands. Water is scarce here. However, with a family of three laundry is not. If I use gray water on the vegetables will it damage them? I use it on the shrubs and fruit trees and it does not seem to harm them. I'm using Tide (free of dyes and perfumes). The vegetables are young now. They are flourishing now with fresh water which is expensive. Thanks for your time and comments.

Answer: In some municipalities, the use of gray water on ornamentals is perfectly acceptable. In others, it's illegal, because of the potential hazards involved with bacteria and the possiblity of contaminating groundwater. Gray water from a washing machine should be fine for ornamentals, but I'd be concerned about using it near veggies, or other edibles like strawberries. The water could contain bacteria that might cling to the fruits and veggies and make you sick when you consumed them. The gray water will have traces of oil, soap, and degreasers that have the potential to damage the tender vegetable plants as they grow, and could result in poor yield, deformed plants, or stressed plants that would be more susceptible to pests and diseases. If you add plenty of organic matter to your soil, and if you place 3-4 inches of mulch over the bare soil, you'll help the soil retain moisture and stop the process of quick evaporation. Veggies should be able to get by with only one-inch of water per week. To further conserve your precious resource, water only during the early morning hours. Under the circumstances, I'd vote for using fresh water on the veggies and gray water on ornamental landscape plants.

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