- PHOTO BY STEVE E. MILLER
- GRAYWATER TO GARDEN : Mikel Robertson has installed a legal graywater system to irrigate a future orchard on his rural property. The $180 county permit he bought for the system will no longer be required after Aug. 4.
Tapping into household graywater from washing-machine and shower drains is becoming cheaper and simpler, with new statewide emergency plumbing standards set to take effect Aug. 4.
Inspired by the ongoing drought and the need for water conservation around the state, the new rules eliminate the need for a costly permit, underground installation, and extensive filtering for graywater systems. Reusing graywater can help reduce water bills by up to 50 percent, according to calculations by the state Department of Housing and Community Development.
The move coincides with the completion of San Luis Obispo County’s new graywater manual, prepared after a two-year effort by the San Luis Obispo Coalition of Appropriate Technology, a joint effort by SLO Green Build, the San Luis Bay Chapter of the Surfrider Foundation, and the Santa Lucia Chapter of the Sierra Club.
“This is a big deal. We’ve been trying to get this for a long time,” said Mikel Robertson of SLO Green Build.
“It tells a bigger story, that there’s never been a case of illness from using graywater. There’s no point putting graywater into the sewage system.”
The old California Plumbing Code is “overly prescriptive and antiquated, and not readily usable” by people wanting to install graywater systems for water conservation, according to the Department of Housing and Community Development’s Finding of Emergency for graywater standards.
It’s likely that many SLO County residents have also been illegally running a hose from their washing machine drain to their fruit trees or shade trees to save on their water bills.
Reusing graywater for landscape irrigation or water features has been legal in SLO County ever since the last drought in the early ’90s, although it has required meeting state standards, paying a $180 fee, getting a county permit, and getting inspected, according to Supervisor Jim Patterson.
Even with a permit no longer required, any graywater system still has to meet the latest plumbing code. The new San Luis Obispo Guide to the Use of Graywater is designed to help educate plumbers, landscape contractors, homeowners, and renters about how to install and use a graywater system that won’t become a health risk, according to one of its principal authors, Rachel Aljalani of the local appropriate technology coalition.
It includes information about how to choose nontoxic laundry detergent and recommends graywater-friendly landscaping plants.
Patterson has been working with city officials to print and distribute the new manual to help meet local water conservation goals and help residents cut rising water bills. It will also be available online at slogreenbuild.org.
For the appropriate technology coalition, graywater has been “the low-hanging fruit” for water and energy conservation, according to Aljalani, who added, “We could do a lot more with our graywater.” Their next focus for change: composting toilets.
Contributing environmental journalist Kathy Johnston can be reached at email@example.com.