Getting Started

California Greywater Law

Greywater is waste water from laundry machines, bathroom sinks, showers, and bathtubs. California law does not allow greywater use from kitchen sinks or dishwashers. In January 2010, the California Building Standards Commission adopted greywater guidelines into the California Plumbing Code. The California Plumbing Code Chapter 16 facilitates water conservation, relieves stress on private septic systems, makes legal compliance easily achievable, and provides guidelines for avoiding potentially unhealthful conditions. Chapter 16 classifies greywater systems as clothes washer systems, simple systems producing 250 gallons a day or less, and complex systems that produce 250 gallons per day or more. The code requires a construction permit for any greywater system that makes changes to a home’s drain/waste plumbing connected to clothes washers, showers, bathtubs, and bathroom sinks. The code allows residential graywater landscape irrigation from washing machines without a construction permit if the system meets all performance guidelines in the code (see Greywater System Requirements below). Watch this short video overview of the Laundry to Landscape system.

Designing Your System

The most reliable, economical, and low-maintenance greywater system designs require no pumps, filters, or storage tanks. Greywater is piped directly to the receiving landscape and distributed into mulch basins. The biology of the mulch basin and surrounding soil is the treatment system that digests organic debris, soap, and any potential pathogens.

Whereas laundry-to-landscape systems use the clothes washer’s internal pump to distribute greywater to mulch basins, branched drain systems from bathroom sinks, showers, tubs, and interior laundry rooms rely on gravity to send greywater into mulch basins through a branched drain irrigation system. Landscapes that are flat or uphill from the greywater source may require an effluent pump system. Greywater to drip irrigation is possible, but requires pumping, filtration, and backflow prevention, all of which increase overall system cost and maintenance. To learn more about greywater irrigation system design, visit our Technical Resources page, or:

Join the 1000 Greywater Systems Challenge!

  1. Register for one of our workshops!Design and install a laundry-to-landscape greywater irrigation system at your home.
  2. Hire a greywater installer! Get professional help from a Central Coast Greywater Alliance member for a more complex system.
Branched Drain Mulch BasinBranched Drain:Flow SplittersOLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

Greywater System Requirements

All greywater irrigation systems must comply with the following guidelines to protect the environment and avoid system failure:


■ Any greywater system that includes a connection to a potable or municipal water supply must have an approved, backflow prevention device. Laundry to landscape greywater irrigation systems that are exempt from permitting must have no connection to the potable water supply or an external pump.

■ The greywater system design must include an accessible, clearly labeled, three-way valve that diverts the greywater back to the building sewer. Greywater should be diverted to the building sewer during the rainy season between November and April.

■ The greywater must not leave the property where it came from or come within 100 feet of any creek, wetland, or waterway.

■ The groundwater table must be lower than 3 feet from the lowest greywater irrigation or disposal point.

■ Each release point of the greywater irrigation system must be covered with at least 2¨of mulch, rock, soil, or a soil shield. Sprinkler irrigation and ponding of greywater are not allowed!

■ Water used to wash diapers or other infectious garments must be diverted to the building sewer.

■ Greywater may not contain hazardous chemicals.

■ Greywater may not be used to irrigate root crops or other edible crops that touch the soil.

■ An operations and maintenance manual for the greywater system must be provided by the installer and must be transferred to the new tenant or owner for the life of the greywater system.

■ Greywater irrigation systems must be located a minimum horizontal distance away from the following landscape features:

Landscape Feature Minimum Horizontal Distance from Greywater Irrigation System
Building structures2 ft
Property line adjoining private property1.5 ft
Water supply wells100 ft
Streams, Rivers, Lakes, Wetlands, and High Tide line of Ocean100 ft
Sewage pits or cesspools5 ft
Sewage disposal field4 ft
Septic tank5 ft
Onsite domestic water service line0 ft
Pressurized public water main10 ft

For detailed information regarding required setbacks for greywater tanks, greywater irrigation fields, and greywater disposal fields, see Table 1602.4 of Chapter 16 of the California Plumbing Code.