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Use Gray Water for California Drought Relief

California regulators have approved using residential "gray water" by issuing an emergency decision that allows residents to create simple water-reuse systems without a construction permit.

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The California Building Standards Commission had expected an overhaul of gray-water rules to take effect in 2011. But on Thursday, it adopted the regulations on an emergency basis due to the deepening drought. Local health agencies may adopt stricter conditions than the state's after they hold public hearings.

Gray water includes wastewater from showers, bathtubs, bathroom sinks, laundry tubs and washing machines, but not from toilets, kitchen sinks or dishwashers.

Homeowners still must follow state guidelines for installation and use. The rules require minimal contact between people and the gray water, for instance by covering the water-release point with at least 2 inches of rock, mulch or other material.

'GRAY WATER' FACTS

New state rules provide permit exemptions for some residential gray-water systems, but people still have to follow several requirements. They include:

 The system must allow users to direct water to an irrigation field or the sewer.

 Ponding and gray-water runoff are prohibited.

 Gray water can be released above ground, but the discharge point must be covered by at least 2 inches of mulch, rock or other material that minimizes human contact.

 Water used to wash diapers or other soiled garments must be sent to the sewer.

 Gray water shouldn't be used on root vegetables.

Online: For more information about California's new standards for gray-water systems, go to uniontrib.com/more/gray.


Roughly 1.7 million gray-water systems are installed statewide. Most are illegal because homeowners almost always avoid permits and the associated fees.

Do-it-yourselfers can build a gray-water system for $200 or less, but permitting-process costs can more than double the expense.

A standard home generates about 160 gallons of gray water per day, or nearly 60,000 gallons per year, state officials said. A family of four could reuse 22,000 gallons a year by tapping the rinse water from its washing machine.


Edited by Carolyn Allen, Managing Editor of Solutions For Green

Publication Date: 8/3/2009
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