What is Grey Water and How Can it Solve the Climate Crisis?

Ardenwood Elementary © Courtesy of The Grey Water Project

The Grey Water Project founder Shreya Ramachandran on California droughts and how grey water can be the key

After travelling to Tulare in Central California, Shreya Ramachandran was stunned by the crippling effects of drought. California has long been plagued by droughts, which can lead to the drying up of wells, limit the growing season, worsen wildfires, and leave many homes across the state waterless.

A California native herself, Ramachandran was familiar with the hardships droughts can cause, but had never witnessed such despair firsthand. Then, after visiting Tulare, Ramachandran embarked on a family trip to India and realized California wasn’t alone in their fight for water.

“My grandparents’ home was an apartment in one of the largest cities in India, and most of the times when you opened the tap, you wouldn’t get any water,” she said.

“There would just be a light gust of air and dust, or a dribble of water so murky that you wouldn’t want to touch it, let alone drink it. To get water, I would have to grab a bucket and stand in line to collect a meager eight gallons of water per person from a water truck. This was something that was simply normalized, and thought of as a part of everyday life.”

It was these experiences that inspired Ramachandran, at just 13 years old, to start The Grey Water Project, an organization dedicated to raising awareness about grey water and empowering others to become water heroes.

“Global water scarcity will be one of the most devastating consequences of climate change and the most pressing issue of my generation,” she explained. “Already, two-thirds of the world’s population experience severe water scarcity for at least one month each year.”

The Grey Water Project founder, Shreya Ramachandran
Shreya Ramachandran © Courtesy of The Grey Water Project

Grey water, as explained by Ramachandran, is lightly used water from sinks, showers, baths, and laundries that make up 60 percent of used water in an average American home. It is any water that has been used once and can be used again for secondary uses such as landscape irrigation, toilet flushing, and groundwater recharge.

“As places around the world face increasing pressures on our limited freshwater resources, we must change the way we think about water,” Ramachandran said. “It is a precious resource that cannot be wasted. That is why we move towards a circular use of water and build resilient water systems. Grey water is central to my work because the implementation of grey water reuse and water recycling are crucial to achieving this.”

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Ramachandran noted that the solutions we need for the water crisis are already at our fingertips; it’s simply a matter of implementing these solutions on a larger scale. Similarly, to implement these changes, Ramachandran shared that water needs to be included in topics surrounding climate change.

“What surprised me the most is how water is often left out of the climate conversation and there is a lack of awareness on the interconnectedness between water and other environmental and climate issues,” she said. “Water conservation plays a crucial role in preventing water pollution in lakes, rivers and streams. Water conservation also leads to reductions in energy use due to the large amount of energy needed to pump, heat, treat, and move water.”

Ramachandran encouraged others to join the fight for clean water, noting that the effects of climate change are not singular to a specific community or demographic, they are felt everywhere.

“More than anything else, it’s important to recognize that climate change is an issue that will affect all of us no matter where you live or how old you are,” she said. “Therefore, I encourage everyone to get involved and take action in any way you can. We can become a formidable force for good by collaborating and forming an intergenerational climate movement.”

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