Teen becomes graywater advocate

By Mary Elizabeth Williams-Villano

California’s drought ignited a passion for water reuse when she was only 11 years old.

At an age when other kids are obsessed with Pokemon Go, one 11-year-old became fixated on water scarcity, according to a story published in Sierra, the official magazine of the Sierra Club.

The story reports that it all started with a trip that Shreya Ramachandran took to California’s Central Valley to compete in an archery tournament. It was there that the sixth-grader learned about the state’s historic drought that was devastating the area’s farmers. Later, she visited her grandparents in India. There, she met taxi drivers who’d previously been farmers. They’d been forced to abandon their farms when an annual monsoon failed to materialize.

She began researching water conservation online and grew fascinated with graywater systems that redirect water from washing machines to lawns and yards. "It's water conservation on a whole different level," she is reported to have said.

In the course of her research, Ramachandran learned that the chemicals in some laundry detergents can make water unsuitable for reuse. She also learned about “soap nuts,” the berry shells of Sapindus mukorossi, a tree in the lychee family that releases a natural cleaning agent. Traditionally used for shampoo in India, she determined that they were safe to use in graywater systems. She presented her findings at various science fairs, and people were intrigued.

In eighth grade, with her parent’s encouragement, Ramachandran built her own graywater system. They let her drill a hole in the side of their house to install PVC piping to channel water to the plants and trees in the family’s yard. But she didn’t stop there: shortly afterward, she started The Grey Water Project to teach others how to install their own systems.

Now a high school sophomore, she holds regular how-to workshops at libraries and Earth Day events and gives school presentations on water conservation and reuse. She’s currently designing a curriculum for teachers about the subject. “You learn about recycling when you're in elementary school, and it just becomes second nature," she says in the article. "I want that to happen with graywater.” Maybe, thanks to bright, engaged kids like her, it will.