Rebates for Residential Greywater Recycling

By Ainslee Shuemake

Ainslee is a graduate student specializing in water resource management in UC Davis’ Environmental Policy and Management (EPM) Program and wrote this op-ed piece as part of a class project. We wanted to share her insight with you and also let you know that we are currently looking for sites to host laundry-to-landscape educational workshops. If you live in Solano County and are interested in hosting a public workshop that installs a laundry-to-landscape greywater system in your home, then fill out the interest form here.

Community members help install a laundry-to-landscape greywater system during an educational workshop at a Vallejo home

As California pushes to make “conservation a way of life,” we should ask, who is going to bear the cost and responsibility to change the way we live? Well, it might be you. The State Water Resources Control Board has proposed regulations that would require conservation efforts from more than 400 cities and would raise about $13.5 billion dollars between 2025 and 2040. This new legislation would require counties and cities to limit outdoor water usage or pay a fine, and there’s a good chance that burden will be passed onto individuals. Enter: Greywater.

Greywater is produced in areas of your home such as sinks, washing machines, and bathtubs, which together account for almost 60 percent of indoor water usage. In addition, landscape irrigation accounts for almost 70 percent of all urban water usage and is the perfect candidate for greywater. How can we tap into this supply of greywater and use it for urban irrigation? Laundry-to-landscape systems are currently the most common and easy to install but there are many other options depending on budget and technicality. Providing incentives for homeowners who install these greywater recycling systems could encourage more people to use greywater in a way that would benefit both counties and individuals when it comes to mitigating rising costs of water. California has shown that green incentive programs are successful, so why not apply that strategy to water conservation and more specifically, greywater?

The good news is, about 40 percent of the money from proposed regulations would go to incentive programs geared towards conservation. Some counties in California are already offering some small rebates and even some tips and resources for installing your system. Counties that have already implemented small rebate programs are showing us that it is possible to make greywater recycling a reality throughout California and that there is real demand for incentives and rebates to make conservation and water savings more accessible.

Greywater recycling is a fairly new idea to bring into the residential sector and isn’t without its challenges. Currently, laundry-to-landscape systems are mostly do-it-yourself and require that your house have the correct layout if you choose to install it yourself. Although California is ahead of most states in the greywater game, all counties have guidelines for using greywater, so it is always important to make sure your system is both safe and healthy for you and your landscaping. Even though there are organizations out there that provide help and resources, incentives would make this process a whole lot easier and more appealing to the general public. Rebates that include the cost of having a professional install this system would encourage many homeowners that previously may not have been interested. Like any other new system or idea, it will take time for greywater recycling to gain traction, but incentives are the fastest way to get there. In the face of continued water shortages, we need that push to make sustainable water usage accessible.

Water conservation regulations are coming sooner or later and installing a greywater system in your home will help you live more sustainably now and save more money in the long run. If you are curious about greywater and how you can take action, look into your existing local rebate programs and let your local and state leaders know that greywater recycling is an integral part of conservation efforts. It is time that California invests into greywater recycling if we truly want to make conservation a way of life.

Sustainable Solano offers Laundry-to-Landscape Greywater installation workshops in partnership with Greywater Action to help get more of these water-saving systems into local homes.

A laundry-to-landscape greywater system is a simple system that runs the wash water from your laundry out to the yard to water trees and other plants in your landscape — saving water and saving your trees! These systems do not require a permit in California, and include a valve you can use to direct water out to the landscape or back to the sewer if you need to.

You can watch this informative video for a quick overview of laundry-to-landscape greywater systems.

To determine if your site might be a good fit for a greywater workshop, please fill out this survey.

Help us Shape Our New Doing Good Business Awards Program!

By Sustainable Solano

We know that there are Solano County-based businesses that make a difference in their communities, and this year, Sustainable Solano plans to launch an awards program to recognize those businesses that stand out in their efforts to support people and planet.

And we’d like your help!

The Inspiration

Sustainable Solano has spent 25 years working to strengthen our communities through urban agriculture and community gardens, supporting the local food system, building community conversations and action around environmental and climate resilience, and youth engagement and empowerment.

Our work is informed by the practice of permaculture, which at its base level applies to creating environments that support a healthy, thriving ecosystem. This can apply to landscapes, but also to people, communities and businesses.

We are inspired to recognize businesses that, in their own ways, embrace the three ethics of permaculture: Earth Care, People Care, and Fair Share.

For businesses, we see these ethics materializing in different ways:

  • Earth Care — A dedication to authentic sustainability practices that comes from direct intent, rather than greenwashing or government mandate
  • People Care — A dedication to outstanding treatment of employees, both in policy and in action.
  • Fair Share — A dedication to giving back to employees or the community.

How You Can Help

We want an advisory committee that will help to guide what this program looks like in our community. We want input from business leaders on how to define meaningful efforts in these three areas, and how to judge which nominees are head and shoulders above the rest. Ultimately, an advisory board will review and select the recipients. 

Help us to envision and shape a program that recognizes, celebrates and supports Solano County businesses that are striving to do good!

Want to help? Contact us at We will start the planning process in early March.

Garden Design Templates Simplify How To Start Your Sustainable Garden

By Sustainable Solano

Want to learn how to apply a waterwise garden template in your own yard? Join Heath Griffith of Grow with the Flow for a Waterwise Garden Design Lab from 10 am-1 pm Saturday, Feb. 24, in Benicia. Learn more and register here.

Creating your ideal garden space can be daunting. Even with piles of garden books, maps of hardiness zones, seasonal planting charts and catalogs spread out on the table, it can take an expert eye to know where certain plants will thrive and how they will work together.

A template can be that little lift needed to get you started on reshaping your yard into something beautiful. (And the perfect activity for this time of the year when cold, rainy days staring out of the window give us an opportunity to think of spring!)

That’s why we reached out to Joshua Burman Thayer with Native Sun Gardens. Joshua is a local landscape designer and horticulture consultant who creates ecological landscape designs, has done extensive work with native plants and organic farming, and community-based work around plants and food. He wrote Food Forests for First Timers, an introductory guide to permaculture in the garden.

Joshua shared these four templates, which we are sharing with you in this blog and will include in our plant resources. These free templates give you a quick way to get started, with the basic layout and selection of appropriate plants for each design.

The templates are designed in 100-square-foot “tiles” that can be combined in various ways to create a larger design.

Joshua shared four approaches: desert, edible, Mediterranean and tropical. The desert and Mediterranean designs are waterwise and drought-tolerant, which is appropriate for Solano County summers. Below each design, Joshua offers a brief description of each as well as where in the county these options could thrive best.


Desert: For those gardeners wanting to try their luck with only minimal hand watering and no weekly irrigation, desert plants can provide a robust plant palette. These plants can acclimate in 2-3 years and then get by on 1-2 waterings by hand per month in the dry season by year 3. Desert plants evolved to withstand great solar intensity and can thrive in sunny parts of Solano County. (Vacaville, Dixon).


Edible: If you wish to maximize food production in your urban lot, the edible template will show you how to prioritize food for humans at each level of the food forest. This system takes a good amount of water and care, but can also reward with the most food per acre if water is not an issue. (All of Solano County).


Mediterranean: Mediterranean plants generally do rather well here, because both the Mediterranean region as well as California are between 32 and 38 degrees N latitude and have similar marine-influenced climates. As such, expect many of the Mediterranean edibles to thrive with the seasonality of California’s wet and dry seasons. (All of Solano County).


Tropical: Solano County residents near sea level have the blessing of being able to grow food frost-free 12 months of the year. Some winters do test that ability, but generally low lying areas near bodies of water will allow for a microclimate perfect for growing tropical crops. Try the tropical template for fun varieties to your garden. (Suisun City, Benicia, Vallejo, Rio Vista, Fairfield).

If you are interested in learning how to apply a waterwise template to your own yard, join us for the Waterwise Garden Design Lab taught by Heath Griffith of Grow with the Flow on Feb. 24 in Benicia. Registration is free, but seats are limited.
Heath got their Permaculture Design Certificate with Vital Cycles Permaculture, through a course sponsored by Sustainable Solano. Since then, they have worked with Soilogical BioSolutions and Designs, become a Qualified Water Efficient Landscaper, and earned a nationally recognized certificate in Water Harvesting. Heath is driven by a deep passion for reconnecting humans with the landscapes that live and breathe all around us, beginning with water harvesting and sustainable water use.

There are other templates out there. For native plants, we recommend the California Native Plant Society’s Regional Guides, which include plant lists and design templates. You can download the one that suits your environment here.

Have a template you’ve used? Share it with us at so we can add it to our list of resources!

Stir Fry with Scallion-Ginger Sauce


Protein: Combine the 3 items below and set aside.
¾ – 1 pound firm tofu or lean meat/seafood (you can use cooked & shredded rotisserie chicken too!)
1 T. soy sauce or Tamari (low sodium is ok), or Coconut Aminos
1 T. dry sherry (or substitute rice wine vinegar, apple cider vinegar, or apple cider)

Sauce: Combine all ingredients below into a bowl and set aside.
3 T. soy sauce (low sodium is OK)
½ t. sugar
1 T. dry sherry
2 T. minced fresh ginger
1 T. minced garlic cloves
3 scallions, white part minced (save green part for garnish)
2 T. low-sodium chicken or vegetable broth

Vegetables: (you should have around a total of 1 ½ lbs.)
Prep vegetables into batches, according to ingredient list below (keep them in their groups — for example, keep the carrots, onion and broccoli together). Cut into uniformly-sized pieces.

Group 1:
2 large carrots, sliced (8 oz.)
½ onion, sliced (4 oz)
½ head broccoli (4-5 oz), cut into florets

Group 2:
4 to 5 oz (about ¼ head) cabbage, chopped
4 to 5 oz. shiitake or other mushrooms, sliced

Group 3:
A couple handfuls of spinach or other cooking green (i.e. bok choy)

2 – 4 T. canola / peanut / avocado oil

Get all ingredients near the stove – this next part goes fast!

  1. Heat a large, nonstick skillet over high heat for about 1 minute. Add 2 T. oil and carefully swirl to coat the pan.
  2. If using raw meat/seafood, drain meat/tofu and sear until just done (1-3 minutes, depending on meat). Spoon meat/tofu out of pan to bowl or plate; cover with foil or a plate to keep warm.
  3. Add “Group 1” veggies and stir-fry for 5 minutes.
  4. Add “Group 2” veggies and stir-fry for 3-4 more minutes (you may need to also add a little more oil if it’s dry).
  5. Add “Group 3” veggies and stir-fry for 2-3 minutes, or until greens are wilted.
  6. When veggies are crisp tender, add cooked meat/tofu to the pan and stir to combine, about 1 minute.
  7. Add the sauce. Stir-fry to coat all ingredients, about 1 minute.
  8. Garnish with scallion greens and serve over rice.

To cook basmati or jasmine rice:
The ration of rice to liquid is roughly 1:1 ½. (So, 1 cup rice + 1 ½ cups water or broth. Combine rice and liquid in a medium saucepan. Add a pinch of salt if desired. Bring to a boil, cover, reduce heat to low and cook for about 15 minutes. Turn off heat and let it steam for 3-4 minutes. Rice is done when tender and you will also see “steam holes” on the top. (Chef’s Note: long grain rice and other varieties can have a ratio of 1:2, so check package directions before cooking.)

Serves 4-5.

Recipe adapted from Cook’s Illustrated and

Download a printable version of the recipe here

Learn about this recipe by watching the cooking class below

Building Backyards (and Front Yards) of Hope

Sustainable Landscaping Steps to Transform a Lawn and Life

By Alana Mirror, The Living Mirror Project

You may have met Alana at one of SuSol’s events and workshops, or seen some of her music videos or blog posts from those experiences. Here, she shares with us about her journey and talks about transforming her lawn to a sustainable landscape within the budget of the lawn conversion rebate she received. Learn more about that process during her free online talk on Jan. 23. You can register here.

Alana’s finished lawn-to-sustainable landscape project

Over the last year, I single-handedly transformed my entire front lawn into a native plant habitat and edible garden — all for less than $1,000 out-of-pocket! With financial support from the Water-Efficient Landscape Rebate program from the Solano County Water Agency for converting a lawn to a waterwise landscape and educational support from Sustainable Solano, not only have I been able to save water, support the ecosystem, and grow my own food, but I’ve also grown a tremendous sense of purpose, empowerment and hope. My mental and physical health have never been better. My heart has never been fuller. Indeed, transforming my lawn has transformed my life.

This blog is an invitation for you to join me in the great joy of serving the Earth within the intimate comfort of our own homes. You don’t have to be an expert. You don’t have to go into debt. I’m here to prove that a thriving world is right at our fingertips.

But, before I dive into the story of how that came to be, I want to acknowledge you. If you’re reading this blog, there’s a few things that I already know about you:

  1. You care deeply about the Earth.
  2. You are bravely willing to take responsibility for your part in creating thriving communities.
  3. You still have hope for what’s to come.

With that in mind, I hope my story will nourish the seeds that you have already planted within your own heart. Whether you’ve already begun making changes to your home and lifestyle, or you’re brand new to sustainable living, this blog is your affirmation: We can make a big impact in our own backyards; anyone can do it; and it’s an absolute joy.

Let me take you back to a time when I wasn’t so optimistic: I was a junior in college when An Inconvenient Truth shook the world with its warning that if we don’t change our ways, the world as we know it will come to a tragic end. It was a rough way to enter adulthood, to say the least. So rough, in fact, that I tried to sweep it under the rug. I tried to keep it all at bay: “It’s far away,” I would say.

But when the drought began to dry up our state, and the fires began to rage, it became clear that the future had arrived. It’s been three years since the day that the sun didn’t rise (remember that smoke-filled, eerie orange morning, summer 2020?). Now, after years of debilitating depression and anxiety, I’m happy to say: I finally found some natural lighting.

It all started with a podcast I was listening to by Greg Sarris (chairman of the Federated Indians of Graton Rancheria) with Obi Kaufmann (author of the California Field Atlas). They were discussing different ways that folks can support indigenous people’s environmental efforts and one of the suggestions was to transform your yard. “Claiming a space as home means being responsible to it by doing things like taking out your lawn and learning indigenous plants,” Obi said.

A bell rang. Chills moved through my veins. I didn’t know how I’d do it, but I’d find a way. I’d turn my lawn into a sustainable landscape.

First I talked to my uncle who had recently transformed his yard to be drought-resistant. He told me about the Water-Efficient Landscape Rebate Program that offers a rebate of $1.50 per square foot up to $1,500 for sustainable yard transformations. But, he had hired a landscaper who charged him $25,000! I didn’t have that kind of money! I would have to find a way to do it myself.

This was a tall order! I didn’t know anything about landscaping at all! So, I started by volunteering with the Putah Creek Council, a local nonprofit that does habitat restoration and protection of our watershed. There I learned about native plants. Eventually I even did an internship with them. But how would I translate all that to home?

That’s when I found Sustainable Solano, whose backyard program teaches folks how to incorporate elements of habitat restoration in their own backyards! By volunteering with Sustainable Solano, I started to learn the basics of the transformation:

  • taking out your lawn with sheet mulching
  • permaculture principles of design
  • sustainable gardening
  • and harvesting and storing rainwater in the ground!

In talking to one of the program managers, Nicole Newell, about my intention to transform my yard as close to the budget of the rebate program as possible, I expressed an interest in paving the path for others to be able to do the same. Being environmental stewards in our homes is something that should be accessible to everyone! In that spirit, she and I collaborated with sustainable designer Joshua Burman Thayer of Native Sun Designs to create a design template that any Solano County resident can use as a starting point for their own yard transformation.

Designer: Joshua Burman Thayer, Native Sun Designs

Through applying the principles that were modeled to me in the Sustainable Solano volunteer days, and by using the design template we created, in less than two hours a week, I was successfully able to transform my entire lawn into a native plant landscape and vegetable garden all within the $1,000 offered by the rebate program. The project took a year, and I bought most of my plants from El Rancho Nursery in Vacaville. This summer, 90% of my veggies came from my garden.

It felt like a miracle! Prior to this project, I had hidden my black-thumb and was embarrassed to try to grow herbs in pots! Now I was sharing surplus veggies!

The benefits went far beyond what I had expected: the garden was a magnet for all kinds of goodness: Neighbors would stop and chat. Lonely meals were supplemented by the satisfaction of knowing that I played a part in growing something so delicious. Plus, the wisdom of the Earth and the peace of the garden ended up being a tremendous companion while processing the grief of having recently lost my grandmother.

There was a hole being filled that I hadn’t known needed filling: For the first time in my life, I found my belonging. Hands in the soil, I reclaimed my place in the ecosystem.

And the more I learned, the more my hope grew! Did you know that 26% of greenhouse gases come from growing and transporting food? 70% of freshwater is used for food production? 50% of habitable land is used for agriculture? 78% of nutrient-overloaded water pollution (called eutrophication) is from farms?

Just imagine how the world would heal if we could grow, at a minimum, our own veggies!

It wasn’t long ago that most people had kitchen gardens right outside their front door. Before the mid-1800s, home gardens and wild food cultivation were a staple of human survival. Though gardens became more of a leisure activity as lawns took center stage and folks started moving into urban areas for manufacturing jobs, during World War II, “victory gardens” made a major comeback to fight food shortages, producing 40% of American produce in 1943. That means that there’s still people living today who remember what it was like to make a mass effort to grow our own food in a short period of time. If our grandparents could do it, so can we.

With 40,000 acres of land being used for lawns (that’s about half the total acreage of all the national parks), just imagine how our world would change if we simply made the switch from water-hungry and pesticide-prone green blankets to native flowers, trees, fruits and veggies?

With just a little help from each other, it’s all within reach. That’s why I’m here.

You can read my blog where I wrote original songs and told stories about how the process of installing the garden helped me to not only serve the Earth, but to make peace within me at The Living Mirror Project.

Then join me on Jan. 23 for Sustainable Yard Transformation on a Budget, a free online class with Sustainable Solano. I’ll share more of the nuts and bolts of what I learned in my journey of transforming my lawn, and how you can grow joy and hope with home sustainability. You can register here.