Dirty laundry is a bed of roses for Troy Murphree since the San Diego resident installed a system that funnels recycled household water to her garden. Murphree’s bungalow in the College Area is surrounded by a wide lawn, a patch of rose bushes and a backyard orchard of citrus, avocado and apple trees, largely watered from her top-loading clothes washer.

The system, known as graywater, allows her to take shower and laundry water that would otherwise flush into sewers, and redirect it to irrigation lines instead. Although it’s long been used in hot, rural areas as an informal conservation measure, new state and local rules would make it easier for urban dwellers to install graylines as well.

The proposed changes follow state revisions that loosened graywater restrictions during drought conditions two years ago to make it easier for homeowners to reuse household water.

Graywater systems channel household water from showers and washing machines to yards, gardens and orchards through diverted plumbing lines. There are limits to the reuse: kitchen water from the sink or dishwasher can’t be graylined because food waste could contain bacterial contaminants. Water containing human waste from toilets or diapers also has to go to sewers. And while the water can safely irrigate fruit trees, tomato vines or berry bushes, it can’t go directly on root crops, or on low-lying plants such as lettuce.

Still, advocates say that in San Diego, where about half of household water goes to irrigation, graywater can make a dent in water use. Until now, complex permit requirements have led many conservationists to install the systems informally.

The changes the city is considering could make graywater systems more common in  San Diego. The new rules would follow state guidelines introduced in 2009 and 2010 to ease graywater restrictions, and those adopted by cities including Santa Barbara and San Francisco, which have not only streamlined graywater permits, but also offer education and support for residents using the systems.

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