Thursday, September 17, 2009
California’s three-year drought just carved a new channel for DIY water recycling.
Responding to an emergency water shortage, the state adjusted its plumbing code in August, allowing businesses and households to rig single-fixture graywater systems without a permit.
Graywater includes untreated wastewater from laundry machines, showers and bathroom sinks. Under the new state rules, a homeowner can route laundry outflow to an underground irrigation system without submitting to a costly permit application process.
In February, the Monterey County Business Council’s Competitive Clusters program launched the Greywater and Water Catchment Roundtable. “The primary goal was to come up with creative solutions regionally so we’d have standards that would be recognized anywhere in Monterey County,” says John Kuehl, building official for the City of Monterey. “We want to promote graywater while educating folks on what it is and how to handle it.”
The group is developing a set of graywater and water catchment permitting guidelines for local building services departments, in an effort to streamline the process and ensure regional regulations are consistent with emerging state standards.
“Everyone is trying to coordinate as much as possible,” says program director Chris Sentieri. “From our perspective it’s a job creation and economic development issue.”
But the local permitting agency, Monterey County Environmental Health, hasn’t issued any graywater permits yet, according to MCEH’s Roger Van Horn.
Looser regulation may inspire more graywater projects, but Van Horn cautions: “I don’t think you’d want to drink graywater. We want to make sure systems are put in correctly so you don’t get cross-contamination.”
Runoff is another concern, hence the requirement to pipe graywater underground. “What I’m afraid of is people taking a hose from their washer and dumping it on their lawn,” Kuehl says.
The county is now in the process of rewriting its graywater permitting code to reflect the new state rules. “Done correctly,” Van Horn says, “it’s gonna be a water savings overall.”