There was much excitement last summer with the passage of Senate Bill 1258 (Lowenthal) in July of 2008. The bill called for the California Department of Housing and Community Development (DHCD) to draft new standards for graywater use (note that the spelling is generally “gray” in the US and “grey” in the UK) in CA that will probably take effect in 2011. Of particular excitement was the explicit mention of “indoor and outdoor uses”.
For close to 2 decades, graywater reuse has been regulated by Appendix G in the CA Plumbing Code with the California State Water Resources Control Board having ultimate administrative authority. The only express reuse application noted in the UPC is an underground irrigation distribution field, which is configured in an eerily similar fashion to a septic leach field. While there is an ‘alternative methods and means’ section in Appendix G, the permitting process proved so cumbersome and expensive that there are only a few permitted graywater systems in all of California, while there are hundreds and likely thousands of unpermitted systems.
The DHCD is in the process of developing and adopting new code to govern the reuse of graywater in California. SB 1258 calls for stakeholder input, which is critical because the DHCD has limited experience dealing with this issue. Unfortunately, the DHCD chose the International Association of Plumbing and Mechanical Officials’ (IAPMO) Chapter 16, which is more restrictive than Appendix G, as the starting point for this new legislation.
However, the stakeholder input process has met with some success in evolving IAPMO’s standards. Lara Allen of the advocacy group Greywater Guerillas summarized the following highlights of the new draft:
1. Washing machines are exempt from permits for residential use as long as they follow specified guidelines.
2. Mulch basins are a legal way to infiltrate greywater (before gravel was specified that is mined from river beds – mulch is wood chips and can be sustainably generated locally)
3. “Simple systems” are defined in the new code and there is language that could lead to local interpretation of exempting these systems from a permit. We still urge HCD to go further and exempt “simple systems” from permitting.
The legislation is still in draft form, and the code writers could make it either better or worse, so interested parties can participate in the ongoing stakeholder input process to encourage the DHCD officials to write an even more user-friendly code. Check out this web site for opportunities to become involved.
There is a critical paradigm shift that needs to occur among graywater regulators so that application systems are not seen as close cousins to leach fields, but rather as efficient irrigation distribution systems.
There are a lot of interesting web sites tracking these developments. Art Ludwig of Oasis maintains a great web site that tracks the history of graywater legislation in California. Check it out here.