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Climate and Environment

Your LA Garden Doesn't Have To Suffer. Get (Free!) Recycled Water Without Breaking The Rules

Cracked earth has a few spots of green.
Yes, this is overly dramatic, but outdoor watering limitations are real here in Southern California.
(Heidi Patricola/Getty Images/iStockphoto
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Angelenos are still under tight outdoor watering restrictions, but there’s a way you could give your parched plants nourishment without breaking the rules.

Currently, outdoor watering is limited to two days per week in Los Angeles. That’s all to make sure that we keep more of the water we have for drinking purposes — a whopping 35% of L.A.’s drinkable water gets poured into lawns and plants.

You can hand-water trees and food gardens, but that still digs into our drinkable water supply as the state heads into the fourth year of drought.

The trick around that is to use recycled water. This is treated and disinfected wastewater that comes from our drains and our toilets. (Yes, “wastewater” is a nicer way of saying “sewage water.”) And depending on where you live, you could get the water for free. This is your guide to picking up recycled water in L.A.

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A purple sign outside by pipes that says to support conservation LASAN provides recycled water for irrigation. Do not drink.
A "Do Not Drink" sign at the Los Angeles-Glendale recycled water fill station on September 30, 2022.
(Caitlin Hernández

How Can I Get Free Water?

To understand how getting recycled water works, I took a trip to a fill station in Glendale, run by L.A. Sanitation and Environment (LASAN) and the department of water and power (LADWP). You have to be a customer of LADWP to pick up the water.

Off of Colorado Boulevard and San Fernando Road, purple flags at a driveway will alert you that you’ve found the right spot. A security guard will tell you to make a few turns and you’ll soon arrive at the fill station. It’s a dirt plot with some purple pipes coming out of the ground next to the reclamation plant.

There are two sites under the city’s program: the one in Glendale and another at the L.A. Zoo. A new site is expected to open in Van Nuys’ Delano Park later this month, according to Jesus González, manager of recycled water policy at LADWP.


Make sure to bring your LADWP bill and government ID. You’ll watch a 10-minute training video that covers usages of recycled water, storage requirements, how it’s filtered and what plants it could work well on.

“It can take longer to fill the containers than it actually takes to go through the training,” said González.

A person with a yellow vest on crouches down to fill up small blue containers with a hose that shoots out water.
A wastewater collection worker fills up small containers with recycled water at the Los Angeles-Glendale fill station on September 30, 2022.
(Caitlin Hernández
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Here’s what you can use recycled water for:

  • Lawns
  • Gardens
  • Trees
  • Edible fruits, vegetables, and herbs (but you must wash foods with drinkable water after harvesting)

What you can’t use it for:

  • Drinking
  • Bathing
  • Swimming
  • Washing kid’s toys
  • Household plumbing
A purple sign on grass says this area is irrigated with reclaimed water (non-potable). Do not drink.
A sign about recycled water at an El Segundo park.
(Suzanne Levy

It’s good to have an idea of how much water you’ll actually use because it’s also prohibited to dump it down street gutters. (Don’t just toss extra water back into the sewer — it was just cleaned for you!)

Only 2% of L.A.’s water is recycled, but the city’s goal is to get to 100% by 2035. You may have already seen signs in parks telling you that the land is hydrated with recycled water. For example, Griffith Park, and Mount Sinai and Forest Lawn Memorial Parks, are maintained this way. And other cities in L.A. County use recycled water, too.

What Types Of Containers Can I Use?

LASAN has a list of suggested options from six gallons up to 55, but the only thing it needs is a water-tight lid. Once you arrive, show the employees your containers, and if they’re authorized, they’ll give you purple “Do Not Drink” stickers to put on.

“We can refill all of those containers, paint buckets, everything,” said Manuel Carrillo, a wastewater collection worker at Glendale. “As long as it’s sealed, we can fill it for them.”

Carrillo says it’s best to store the water only for about a week because it can get discolored after sitting for too long, so take that into account when you’re planning.

A man in a bright yellow vest smiles at the camera while standing by the fill station.
Manuel Carrillo, a wastewater collection worker in Glendale. It's his job to help people get recycled water into their containers.
(Caitlin Hernández

How Much Can I Take?

At the city sites, you can haul away up to 300 gallons — or about 2,500 pounds — of recycled water each visit. It’s a lot of water to drive away with, so you’ll need to consider how you’ll transport that. Strap down any heavy containers that can’t sit still in your backseat.

If you visualize about a hundred milk jugs, that’s how much the average person picks up in recycled water each visit. Filling up can be done in minutes if there’s no wait and you don’t have a lot of small containers.

During my trip, San Fernando Valley resident Luis Carcamo drove up with a 300-gallon container strapped to his truck bed. He comes multiple times a week, sometimes even twice a day, to pick up the recycled water. He learned about the program through an email, and now it’s the way he waters his front and back yards.

I told my friends, you know, that it’s a good idea to come and pick up water, especially for free.
— Luis Carcamo

Recycled water is a money-saver for Carcamo — his water bills are lower. He’s even set up a tank at home so he doesn’t have to worry about taking the water off his truck.

Is Recycled Water Safe?

TL;DR: Yes.

The water treatment has to follow Title 22 from the State Water Resources Control Board, which is a regulation that defines how recycled water is processed. Richard Southerland, an environmental engineer with LASAN, says their recycled water meets the highest standards (what’s known as tier or level three) for non-drinkable water because of the methods they use to filter and disinfect it.

The water comes through a sewer where the gunk and debris are filtered out. It’s then treated to remove things like grease and nitrogen. The water is tested at multiple stages to ensure it’s safe to use (but not drink!).

“Some other tiers, you maybe aren’t sending it through filters or filters of a certain type, like cloth filters or deep sand bed filters,” Southerland said. “So if you don't do both of those, or you do one of them, you might not meet level three.”

Remember, sewage water flows north to south. If you pick up from the L.A. Zoo, that means you’re getting treated water that was once probably used around the San Fernando Valley.

What Other Places Can I Find Recycled Water?

Some other water districts and cities run their own programs. Burbank gave out free recycled water last month during the complete pause on outdoor watering. Ventura has a mobile recycled water program, but there are costs involved.

If you don’t get service from LADWP, check with your water provider or city management to see if there’s a pickup program.

Level With Me: Why Should I Do This?

Recycled water is our future, literally. Experts are working to advance filtration to make recycled water drinkable. (My colleague Erin Stone drank some.)

As our imported water sources continue to shrink, it’s essential to look at all the ways we can help create change. While recycled water isn’t the only solution to the state’s drought problems, it’s a simple way to cut your water bill and get around restrictions legally.

“If they have the ability to come and get the water, it certainly is a great thing they're doing for their yard, the whole city and the environment because they're lessening the use of drinking water for their plants,” Carrillo said. “So it's really a win-win for everybody.”

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