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.

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!

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.

Winter at the Pace of Nature

By Jazzmin Ballou, Solano Gardens Program Manager

Every winter I find myself overwhelmed with the need for rest. This comes regardless of how busy I have been, how much sleep I have, or what my calendar looks like for the next week. It shows up as an inherent, unignorable need to slow down and retreat. When I process this in the context of the human world, I feel kind of crazy. Everyone else is continuing on as normal, working and attending social gatherings … and some people are doing even more of those things considering the holidays are upon us! It all seems so surreal to me: the way the human world never seems to slow down, often appearing to just move faster and faster. And then I look to nature. Nature, with her ability to tune in directly to her needs and move at a pace that serves all of her inhabitants. When did we lose touch with this process?

In the winter when I tune in to the pace of nature I find myself face-to-face with myself in all of my slowness. The fog soon clears and I realize my body as a member of nature is asking to move at the pace that the rest of the natural world is moving at. This need for rest is not necessarily because my body is tired from my life, but because my body is taking the hints from the natural world that this time of the year, winter, is intended for slowing down, hibernation, and stasis. I’m reminded of a quote from the book Wintering: The Power of Rest and Retreat in Difficult Times by Katherine May, who writes “In winter, I want concepts to chew over in a pool of lamplight — slow, spiritual reading, a reinforcement of the soul. Winter is a time for libraries, the muffled quiet of bookstacks and the scent of old pages and dust. In winter, I can spend hours in silent pursuit of a half-understood concept or a detail of history. There is nowhere else to be, after all.”

As we enter into the holiday season, a time that for so many of us signals travel to see loved ones, time off of work and school, and cozy time spent indoors, I wish you rest. Rest that is so sacred and full of ease, it mimics the process of the leaves surrendering to the wind, carrying them from their host tree to be composted back into the Earth. Rest that is so intentional it allows space for your own internal composting process, preparing you for the rebirth of spring.

The Vision for a SuSol Education Center

By Sustainable Solano

Sustainable Solano has had a vision for a while now: To have an office space that serves as a place of education around the many things we teach about, such as sustainable landscaping, water capture and reuse; cooking with seasonal, sustainable local food; and building community resilience.

We have been lucky to spend the past few years in our office at the Global Center for Success on Mare Island. This office space puts us near nonprofit partner organizations and the beauty of the Vallejo People’s Garden and the Pollinator Pathway garden we installed with them and Solano RCD in front of the building. But as our team has grown in number, we find there are limitations in a one-room office, both for our team members’ needs as well as ways we would like to interact with all of you in the community.

And so we are returning to that original vision.

We would love to find a safe and beautiful place where we can create and exhibit the solutions we’ve been teaching and demonstrating for nearly 25 years. These may include a permaculture garden or farm, sustainable water techniques, solar energy and maybe even chickens. There could be a commercial kitchen space for teaching classes and preparing food (or the potential to add such a space). We also need a shared workspace and a place to gather around a table for large team or partner meetings, and an area to house tools and equipment, promotional materials and office files. The property would need to be zoned to allow for office space and would need to be able to support visitors coming to the site for meetings, classes and demonstrations.

We’ve seen creative and innovative ways individuals, organizations and cities have supported such projects. In Berkeley, the Ecology Center runs EcoHouse, which was founded in 1999 when a group of individuals “collectively purchased and transformed a small, dilapidated North Berkeley home into a demonstration house and garden.” In American Canyon, the city offered up an old public works yard to be transformed into the Napa River Ecology Center in partnership with the American Canyon Community Parks Foundation. Santa Cruz Permaculture now stewards a 26-acre farm under a 30-year lease as part of its operations.

We’d love to hear your ideas and suggestions for supporting this vision! Reach out to us at

Even with this active vision for an education center, Sustainable Solano is committed to continuing hands-on sustainable landscaping and resilience-building workshops, cooking classes, and internships within Solano communities, because these are the very heart of our work. Our goal is to bring neighbors together in ways that help them connect with each other, the Earth, and themselves.

Gift of the Generations

By Alana Mirror, creator of This Wonderful World: a musical reality-show where love for ourselves, each other, and the Earth become one

We introduced Alana and her This Wonderful World project when she attended the Pollinator Pathway garden installation and created a series of three songs from that experience. Since then, she’s done a series of songs about the installation of Peace of Eden community garden at City Church Fairfield, and a series inspired by the Vallejo People’s Garden. This is her reflection and the last song in her spring series — it highlights community gardens through SuSol’s Solano Gardens program. We appreciate reposting it here with her permission.

I’ve never felt like I had much of a green thumb. Though I’ve always known that growing a garden is a staple of sustainable living, I never really felt capable. Growing up, we didn’t have a garden. Other than the tomatoes that my grandpa grew, or my great-grandma’s home-dried oregano, I just thought food came from the store.

It wasn’t until I found Sustainable Solano that things began changing. I remember the first time I went to one of their community events — such diversity! All ages, shapes, colors and sizes were represented. There were people who seemed super experienced in the garden, and then there were folks (like me) who found the courage to show up as amateurs.

No one embarrassed us. No one rolled their eyes. Tips were shared with kindness and patience. I felt embraced and appreciated just for showing up. There seemed to be a shared understanding: we’ve all grown up in a culture that’s been disconnected from the source, and we’re all still finding our way home.

Before the rise of industrial agriculture, participating in the cultivation of food has been a human staple. But my great-grandma’s generation tended not to pass it on. Why would she? The Great Depression was hard and the supermarkets were miraculous. All it took was one generation for that long line of ancestral wisdom to disappear.

Fortunately, it wasn’t lost completely, which is evident in the fact that there’s enormous efforts being put forth to help reestablish our most basic connection with Earth: food. For non-home owners (like me — and 44% of California), just having a place to practice gardening is a gift. But when you add education and community to that, the roots really start to grow back. Recently the Surgeon General, Vivek Murthy, declared loneliness an epidemic where 60% of us feel a desperate hunger for belonging. His solution: social connection.

The garden not only offers a place to connect, but a way to connect. Metaphors of the earth remind us of our shared human condition where we all know what it’s like to be vulnerable when we sprout and withered when we’re spent. We all know the frustration from pesky weeds and the exhilaration of fruit that’s sweetening. The garden gives us language to connect in where we all belong, through the seasons, in the bird song. Here we are reminded that it’s OK to need each other. Witnessing the bees pollinating, the fungi decomposing, the compost nourishing, we are reassured that everything needs each other, and everything has something to give. We are reminded of the abundance that comes when we work together — how precious the fruit is when our love has nurtured it.

It may sound a bit woo-woo, but it’s true: there’s a vibration that’s inherent. As one of the program managers for Solano Gardens, Jazzmin Ballou, confidently confirmed: “all I need to do is touch the Earth to tune in, and quiet my mind, to give me a glorious sense of sacred belonging.”

It’s truly a gift. As someone who has struggled with my fair share of loneliness, I hardly recognize myself after spending these last few months in community gardening. As much as self-help strategies have served me, there’s been no greater cure than serving. Of course I’m still learning a lot, but I’m not as embarrassed about it anymore. The confidence and connection that comes from growing together has sent ripples through my whole life. It’s an overflow that’s yearning to be shared, a gift begging to be given, a joy to pass on (as our ancestors did not so long ago) to a world that, every day, is rediscovering our beauty.

Thank you for reminding me.

This Wonderful World is the latest production from Alana’s greater work, called The Living Mirror Project, a creative practice that generates peace by seeing ourselves in everything.

Learn more about This Wonderful World here
Watch the whole series here
Sign up for Alana’s newsletter here
Contact Alana at if there are any service events that you think should be celebrated in this series, or for more info on booking a live musical show.