The Sprout Blog

Green Your Garden with Greywater

September 26, 2016  |  Blog


Author: Ted Labbe. Long long time depaver, current board member and backer of all things greywater.

Portlanders love their gardens. But have you ever stopped to consider how much water your garden consumes? Our abundant fall-winter-spring rainfall comes out of sync with the summer garden irrigation season. Peak water use by City of Portland residential customers is in July through September when water use increases by 30-50% to feed those thirsty veggies, fruit trees/shrubs, and lawns. Even a small bed of veggies and a few fruit trees can consume 5,000 gallons of water over one irrigation season. That is a lot of pristine Bull Run drinking water!

Peak water use by City of Portland residential customers is in July through September when water use increases by 30-50%


Portland’s Water Use vs Rainfall

That’s one reason why Depave promotes naturescaping, integrated with thoughtful rainwater harvesting techniques (like rain gardens), at our project sites. Native plants are adapted to our climate and can thrive without supplemental irrigation. Using mulch and soil amendments we can boost water storage in our soils, which is the cheapest and most effective place to store all that rain – for the benefit of our plants and everything else downstream.

But many of us love our home-grown veggies and fruit and we know they need summer irrigation to thrive. Portlanders with green thumbs often jump to rainwater catchment and storage in tanks as the fix for their garden irrigation needs. But it can be tough to find space to store all the water you need for a whole season of garden irrigation. Large tanks also can be cost-prohibitive and unsightly.


Shut off valve

What if you could get a second use from the water draining your shower, sink, and clothes washer and use it in your yard? You can. It is called GREYWATER. And since 2011 it has been legal in Oregon to use your own greywater, if you follow some simple procedures.

Used wisely, greywater is safe for you and your plants. During the summer you redirect greywater to your yard. In the wet season you shut off your system and send all wastewater to the sewer.

But won’t the soapy wastewater hurt my plants? Nope. You must switch your clothes washer and dish soaps over to plant-friendly ones (those without salts, boron, or bleach), but there are a variety of good ones to choose from. Regular body soaps are fine. The only no-no is dishwasher effluent, since there are no boron/salt-free soap options. The other stuff in your wastewater is actually beneficial for your plants.

You can’t use the water from your toilet (that is “blackwater”), or store your greywater for more than 24 hours – it will stink! All greywater systems need some basic periodic maintenance. So it isn’t right for everyone (and every site). You need to consider the site, the users, and plant needs.

Greywater isn’t a panacea, but it is a compelling part of a well-rounded water conservation and (re)use strategy, that includes water-efficient appliances, drip irrigation, rainwater catchment, naturescaping, human behavior changes, and more.

Greywater is being designed into new construction in drought-stricken regions across the world. But there are affordable DIY retrofit systems that you can implement at home with a minimal investment of time and resources. One of the simplest is the laundry-to-landscape (L2L) system and uses the pump in your clothes washer to deliver wastewater to your plants. A branched drain system uses just gravity and pipes (no pumps or other moving parts) to water your thirsty fruit trees. There are also more elaborate designs with pumps and filters that cost more and can require more maintenance.

These low-tech systems are not good for lawn or low-growing food plants that could potentially contact the ground (ex. strawberries). But they are perfect for fruit trees, berry bushes, upright veggies (tomatoes, broccoli), and more.

The first step is to assess your home water use, and implement water conservation measures like low-flow faucets and showerheads. (Plus maybe replace that old water-hog of a clothes washer?) Then design your system to match your plant’s water needs with the knowledge of your greywater flow and site constraints. There are lots of tips and tricks to learn about and some of the best greywater resources are listed below.

After you assess your water use and yard, implement water conservation measures, and design your greywater system, you need to get a permit from Oregon DEQ here. For any home-interior plumbing work you may also need a permit from your City building department. Then you are ready to build!

At this stage you may be thinking: “Great! Who can I hire to help me design and build my system?” Unfortunately, right now there are not many seasoned residential greywater system installers in Oregon and even with the recent drought there have been few systems permitted. This is one reason why Depave is helping host informational and how-to workshops: to build a local community of greywater practitioners, proponents, and resources for those interested.

Depave is helping host informational and how-to workshops: to build a local community of greywater practitioners


Laura Allen teaches Portlanders about greywater in Aug 2016.

We think greywater is perfect for Portlanders with green thumbs. It is good for our pocket books, our plants, and the planet. It can help close the loop on our wasteful residential water use patterns. Folks that implement greywater systems begin to carefully scrutinize their soaps and are less prone to simply dump random stuff down their drain.


Portlanders dig in during the Aug 2016 hands-on greywater workshop.




Depave is so excited about the possibilities for greywater in Portland (and the synergism with our work-to-date) that we hosted two workshops in August 2016 introducing greywater residential reuse and the DIY retrofit systems mentioned above. The workshops were taught by Laura Allen, author of The Water-Wise Home and a co-founder of Greywater Action). To host these workshops we partnered with Greywater Action, Recode, Oregon Tradeswomen, and East Multnomah SWCD. The workshops were a great success and we are contemplating more in 2017. Tell us about your interest in follow up greywater workshops here.



Greywater Action’s website is a great place to start learning about greywater and DIY home systems. A co-founder of Greywater Action, Laura Allen, has a great book with more details, tips and tricks if you want to learn more: The Water Wise Home is available from the Multnomah Co Library or Powell’s Books. This is our favorite book on greywater – it is the easiest to understand and use.

Get local (Portland metro region) info on water saving tips, learn about rebates, and find out where your water comes from through the Regional Water Providers Consortium.

Brad Lancaster’s comprehensive water harvesting website has lots of info, links, and photos on greywater systems here.

Art Ludwig, the creator of the original L2L and branched drain designs has a great website on greywater do’s and don’ts here. He also has a book: The New Create an Oasis with Greywater available from Multnomah Co Library and Powell’s Books.

Preparing for the Unexpected; Rainwater Harvesting

August 30, 2016  |  Blog

Author: Danny Kapsch – new board member and stormwater guru at Portland’s Bureau of Environmental Services

5 Tips for Effective Rainwater Harvesting in Portland

Portland averages around 37” of rain each year, mostly coming in the late fall, winter and spring. Ever consider catching some of that rain and saving it for later use? Rain barrels can be a great way to harvest some of Portland’s bounty for summer irrigation or use during an emergency situation. In fact, because most of Portland’s drizzle comes during the months when we don’t need it for watering veggies and flower pots, capturing rainwater for use in an emergency situation could be the primary reason for installing a rain barrel in the Pacific Northwest.

Tip 1: Go Big or Go Home


Mother Nature giveth and she taketh. Collect it while Ma’s being generous!

Unfortunately, it’s often difficult to capture enough water to make a dent in irrigation during the dry summer months. It can definitely help in kicking off the growing season, but past that first week or so, you will likely be dragging out the garden hose. If you are considering a rain barrel for irrigation purposes, consider installing more than one 55 gallon barrel. A series of rain barrels or a larger cistern can do the trick–especially given a summer shower or two to recharge the system. In an emergency situation however, even one barrel could make a huge impact by providing a source of water to get you through.

Tip 2: Rock the Overflow


The wrong way to plumb overflow

Given that 1,000 square feet of roof will generate over 22,000 gallons of water in a typical rain year (in Portland), the overflow is the most crucial element of a catchment system. In other words, your barrels or cistern is bound to fill, most likely in the first rain event of the year. After that, it’s overflowing until the natural spigot turns off. So as a stand-alone stormwater management tool, it just is not that effective. This is why it is critical to design your system with an adequate overflow. The typical garden hose overflow can be prone to clogging or freezing during the winter, and is usually only 1/2” in diameter at most. Depending on the area of roof that is flowing to a barrel, this could prove to be inadequate in a heavy rain event. The overflow should be sized at least 2” in diameter and directed to flow back into the downspout stand pipe or another safe disposal location, such as a rain garden, where it can soak back into the ground.

Tip 3: Quality Counts


The right way to plumb overflow

There are several common pitfalls to avoid when installing a rain barrel system. Starting out right and taking your time with installation and fittings will pay off in the long run. Since rain barrels are typically installed in-line with an existing downspout, it lives right next to the foundation of your home. Any clogs or leaky connections can cause stormwater to drain into a basement window well or into a crawl space, certainly areas we don’t want water. Setting your rain barrel or cistern on a sound, level surface and strapping it in place will help prevent any unforeseen safety issues, and increase the likelihood that, in the event of an emergency such as an earthquake, you will still have your emergency water supply to tap into.

Tip 4: Be Prepared

If you are considering a rain barrel as a backup water supply, keep the following in mind. Filtering, boiling or other purification will be needed, so have a plan of attack on how to make your rainwater potable. Water in a rain barrel or cistern can get stagnant or grow algae over the summer months, so a periodic flushing will be required. This is the perfect excuse to drain your barrel on your garden. Refilling the barrel with water you would have used on the garden will ensure it is ready to go in case of emergency.

Tip 5: Check and recheck

Rainwater harvesting systems are an active system that needs regular maintenance. Be sure you are checking your system for debris, clogs and leaks throughout the year. Leaf screens and other “first flush” devices can help prevent clogs and debris from causing issues with your rain barrel plumbing, but even these devices need regular checks and maintenance. Schedule inspections of your rainwater catchment systems with other household chores such as garbage night. This will protect your investment and ensure that your catchment system is a great amenity, and not a nuisance.


Check out the Rain Barrel Guide here.

The City of Portland has a great Rain Barrel How to Guide that I would encourage you to read. It is a step by step guide that goes into significantly greater depth and delves into the fine nuances of rain barrel installation and maintenance. Rain barrels are just the tip of the iceberg, perhaps a rain garden is also in your future? For more information on stormwater management including the rain barrel guide,
visit the technical assistance page of the Clean River Rewards website.

Happy harvesting!

Human Solutions’ Family Center – From “Vice to Nice”

Human Solutions’ Family Center – From “Vice to Nice”

July 25, 2016  |  Blog
Image 2 - East County Family Center

Human Solutions’ new East County Family Center

What do Human Solutions and Depave have in common? Oddly enough, a vegan strip club. In 2015, Human Solutions acquired property that previously served as a strip club and transformed it into the East Portland Family Center: a family homeless shelter serving 130 adults and children daily. This Saturday, six months after the center’s grand opening, volunteers will depave the parking lot and assist in the creation of greenspace that will serve patrons and their families. The potential of 5,000 square feet of pavement will be realized in the form of a children’s play area, a rain garden, raised garden beds, as well as other greenspace features. We’re overjoyed to work with Human Solutions, an organization that has a legacy of collaboration and partnerships across Portland.

The potential of 5,000 square feet of pavement will be realized in the form of a children’s play area, a rain garden, raised garden beds, as well as other greenspace features.

Image 1 - Rockwood Building

The Rockwood Building. Human Solutions currently owns 701 units of housing in 18 complexes throughout East Portland, Gresham and Fairview.

In 2014 alone, Human Solutions served over 90,000 individuals in Multnomah County. Its innovative approach to alleviating the conditions of poverty is based on a holistic view of stability – a foundation that is reflected in its wide array of services. While it began as an organization that provided low-income households with home weatherization and utility assistance, Human Solutions has greatly expanded its services, and done so in a way that maintains a strong situational awareness of the volatile conditions in which the people it serves live. Focus is placed on two main issue areas (housing and employment), with the appreciation of these factors’ interdependence and role in maintaining family stability. However, within these two issue areas exists a network of services that create a safety net for families.

Take housing insecurity, for example:

Emergency shelters, such as the East Portland Family Center, serve families in crisis. From there, Family Advocates from the Homeless Families Program ensure that families are placed in safe and affordable housing. If families already have access to this, eviction protection and utility assistance programs help them stay there. Lastly, Human Solutions invests in developing permanent affordable rental housing – a crucial role as Portland’s housing market continues to displace families across the county.

Image 4 - Luliia Employment Success Story

Luliia joined the Pathways to Success program in 2013. Click to read her story of success.

The organization’s employment programs are also robust, and focus not only on finding residents jobs, but helping them obtain living wage employment. Through CommunityWorks, Human Solutions partners with various community-based organizations to create a culturally-specific approach that transitions families off TANF, and into the workforce. These organizations, such as the International Refugee Community Organization (IRCO), the Native American Youth and Family Center (NAYA), and the Urban League, allow Human Solutions access to a new set of clients, many of whom would not have engaged if it weren’t for pre-existing relationships within their cultural groups.

Image 3 - Arbor Glen Affordable Housing

Arbor Glen Affordable Housing. Human Solutions develops permanent affordable rental housing and provides comprehensive resident services based on the understanding that affordable housing is only the first step towards families achieving self-sufficiency.

Human Solutions’ outstanding achievements have been nationally recognized. In 2012, it received an Audrey Nelson Community Development Achievement Award from the National Community Development Association for “exemplary use of Community Development Block Grant funds which address the needs of families, homes and neighborhoods” in its Rockwood Building.

We hope that you recognize the positive impact Human Solutions has on our community, and will come out support them as a Depave volunteer on July 30th.




Help us to, as Andy Miller (Human Solutions Executive Director) said, “convert vice to nice,” and strip this parking lot of pavement!




How does depaving help make the Willamette River swimmable?

July 5, 2016  |  Blog


Each July, hundreds of Portlanders jump into the Willamette River for The Big Float put on by Human Access Project. But is the Willamette River really safe to swim in?

Frequent water quality tests reveal that the answer is yes. Bacteria levels are consistently well below safety standards, so swimming in the Willamette will not make you sick. Get the latest test results.


Float On, the Willamette.

Things have changed

Several years ago, the Willamette River was not safe for swimming. Raw sewage flowed into the river during rainstorms about 50 times each year in “Combined Sewer Overflows” (CSOs). In older Portland neighborhoods, the rainfall that runs off rooftops, roads and driveways and into a storm grate is combined in the same pipes with sewage from toilets and sinks. The pipes used to be too small, so when it rained the mixture of sewage and stormwater would overflow into the river. Find out which neighborhoods have combined sewer pipes.

The Big Pipe

In 2011, Portland completed construction of “The Big Pipe” project. The largest of the big pipes is 22 feet in diameter and six miles long. That can hold a lot of water! Today, sewage overflows happen only in very intense rainstorms — about four times each winter, and roughly once every three years in the summer. The Big Pipe was the largest public works construction project in Portland’s history, and we are paying for it in our sewer/water bills. That is the price of making the Willamette safe to swim in.

Big Pipe

Portland’s Big(gest) Pipe

What about the Superfund site?

The Superfund site is in the most industrialized part of the Portland Harbor, from the Fremont Bridge to Sauvie Island, which is all downstream of the downtown waterfront. The contamination is in sediments on the river bottom and in resident fish. The most dangerous thing about the Superfund site is eating fish such as bass, catfish and carp that spend their whole lives in the harbor. Salmon are safer to eat, since they spend most of their lives in the ocean. EPA’s proposed cleanup plan is open for public comments until September 2016.

The pipe’s not getting any bigger

If we want to keep sewer overflows from happening more often, we have to keep stormwater out of the pipe system. That’s where depaving comes in. Replacing pavement with soil and plants helps rainwater percolate into the ground naturally, replenishing aquifers. And depaving keeps rainwater out of the piped system, reducing the risk of sewage overflows during rainstorms. The next time you’re tearing up asphalt at a depave, remember that you’re helping to make the Willamette River safer to swim in!

The Big Float happens this Sunday, July 10th. Get your pass and grab your water wings to join in.


Jump on in, the water’s fine — Join the Riverlution with The Big Float.

Welcome to the Depaving

Welcome to the Depaving

April 4, 2016  |  Blog

Author: Brynn Eiffler, longtime depave volunteer rock star.

Hello, I’m Brynn. I am usually the first person volunteers meet upon arriving at our events. Here’s my Depave story.

I was hooked after going to my first depaving event in 2012. I wanted more. More earth between my fingertips. More community building. More transformation before my eyes.

In the past 3.5 years, I’ve participated in various projects from fundraising, to volunteer engagement, to education, and of course ripping it up with the crew. One of my favorite roles has been my work as Depave’s Event Engagement Assistant. I welcome all who are new to our organization and reunite with our returning volunteers.

Brynn has earned her chops. click4big

As the Event Assistant I don’t participate in the physical work of depaving. I start each event by making sure everyone is signed-in and has a name tag. I ensure volunteers know where the bathroom is (very important) and where the food/water table is (also very important). From there I speak to how their day will look, where the tools are, which crew leaders to go to for direction, and more. I do my best to ensure volunteers feel comfortable in how their day will be structured.

Once the depaving begins, I capture the fun and live-stream the a

Brynn and the crew.

ction online. We like to share our work with those that follow us around the world. When I’m not snapping candids, I stay close to the tables to chat with volunteers and answer questions. Stormwater runoff, pollution, native plants, and the heat island effect are all topics I love talking about with visitors.

As community members walk by, curious about our event, I have the chance to share project details and how we serve the Portland area. Through these interactions I’m privileged to witness the generosity of complete strangers. One day a random couple walking by the depaving came back to donate to our cause. It’s so powerful to see this kind of thing — this community is truly amazing!

One day a random couple walking by the depaving came back to donate to our cause. It’s so powerful to see this kind of generosity — this community is truly amazing!

Selling Depave gear is another highlight of my day. It’s exciting to see our logo walk off of the site and into the world. “Free Your Soil” travels far and wide as our volunteers take Depave wherever they go.


Brynn, repping Depave!

Local breweries, nurseries, restaurants and entrepreneurs all support Depave by donating items for us to raffle off at our events. Local businesses around Portland show their dedication to making the world a better place by helping us raise money for our projects. One of my favorite parts of our events is the Instagram contest. We encourage volunteers to take a break from ripping up asphalt to take pictures of the event and post them on Instagram (hashtag #depavepdx!) The volunteers with the best shots of the day walk away with the coolest shirt in Portland.


Depave is a multi-generation affair. Mini-Depaver Elliott is already learning how amazing this organization is. You may see her at events this summer as well!

When all the hard work is done and the pavement is gone, I see the beginning of a parking lot transformed. Everyone is tired but there are smiles all around. We’ve just accomplished something amazing. Using our bodies, we’ve created an area that will soon be an inviting greenspace. In the process we’ve connected with our neighbors and formed a unique bond. This is an achievement that one can revisit throughout the years.

I’m grateful for those I’ve met at so many depavings and can’t wait to meet more of you this summer. Join us in creating lasting change. The feeling will last a lifetime.

Join us in creating powerful change. The feeling will last a lifetime.

What does half a staff member look like?

What does half a staff member look like?

February 22, 2016  |  Blog

Meghan Scanlon, Depave’s Projects & Volunteer Coordinator – the newest addition to the team.

Howdy, friends! I’m Meghan, Depave’s newest employee. You might be wondering what kind of person works for such a cool nonprofit. Read on to find out.

I didn’t grow up liking the outdoors very much. I didn’t spend summer vacations camping or visiting National Parks. It wasn’t until a college volunteer abroad program brought me out of doors and into the bush (down under!), letting me experience firsthand the power of individual action to achieve a collective goal, that I began to appreciate a connection with the natural world. Over the course of a month, I helped a few different organizations implement hands-on conservation projects. I planted eucalyptus, built dams, and improved habitat for Australian quolls

Back in the states, I completed my degree in Political Science and headed out into the real world. After working with a national architecture, engineering and environmental consulting firm in San Diego, I explored nonprofit work at a dynamic land trust in the San Francisco Bay Area. It was energizing to work for a mission rather than profit. My work focused on the management of conservation properties and public open spaces. It was this experience that solidified my interest in how people experience and are connected to the places that surround them. I moved to Portland a few years later and found Depave and its unique approach.

I started working with Depave as its Project and Volunteer Coordinator in June 2015. Depave is a small yet mighty group, with only 1.5 full time staff, ensuring donor dollars go to implementing and maintaining projects. I’m the half timer, and typically make a mediocre joke about being short. Maybe this doesn’t translate in writing. This past summer, I coordinated logistics and volunteer activities at our ten project sites. It was—and remains—mind boggling to me how much can be accomplished through the teamwork of volunteers choosing to spend part of their weekends smashing heavy pavement and getting dirty. Dedicated individuals, determined and inspired to make a difference in their communities, continue to show up to make their vision a reality.

It was—and remains—mind boggling to me how much can be accomplished through the teamwork of volunteers.

Depave’s model of utilizing volunteers to instigate radical landscape change paired my love of placemaking with community engagement, ensuring projects are community-driven and sources of local pride for years to come. Placemaking is the concept of planning for, designing, and managing public spaces where people want to be. Through simple (and really badass) acts, Depave creates vibrant, living spaces that inspire outdoor engagement and connection to place. I don’t believe that we must experience nature as “out there”, a destination to drive to on weekends. By removing pavement and replacing it with native landscaping, Depave brings nature back to the city.

I don’t believe that we must experience nature as “out there”, a destination to drive to on weekends. By removing pavement and replacing it with native landscaping, Depave brings nature back to the city.

This year, we’re connecting with new communities and areas around Portland, sharing our model and engaging with folks who might not ever get another chance to participate in such unique projects. Our portfolio contains landscape features that manage stormwater runoff, natureplay and outdoor classroom components for student learning, and native vegetation for areas that lack access to other green spaces. Please join us! If we haven’t yet met, I hope to see you out on the asphalt this summer. 

When I’m not overseeing projects, you can likely find me at home with my cat. I’ll be reading, drinking wine, or eating pizza, or all of the above 🙂