A non-partisan, neutral perspective supporting diversity in the color of water

Monday, February 13, 2017

Making America Greyter Again

Almost one month into a new federal administration that is searching for ways to build golden bridges and great walls.

Then comes an invasion from the north!

Water Canada announced that "one of their own" won the coveted Best Green Building Product award at the 2017 NAHB International Building Show Awards in Orlando, Florida for their "greywater gadget".

Introducing the Greyter Water Systems, not built in America, but just across the "border".

The Greyter HOME recycles shower and bath water so that it can be reused for toilet flushing or for irrigation.The patent pending Greyter HOME is the first of its kind – A cost effective energy efficient water savings solution that is easy to install, capable of meeting water quality standards of major markets, while requiring little maintenance and a small footprint in the home.

Some of the Benefits:

  • Supplies all of the water required for a typical household’s toilet flushing
  • Reduces indoor water consumption by 25-30%
  • Provides superior water quality – designed to meet NSF 350 standards
  • Capable of reducing hot water heating costs by 20-25% with drain water heat recovery

The "invasion" has already occurred with systems installed at US Army Denton Texas, US Air Force Clovis New Mexico, dodging the dreaded and threatening "border" tax.

No fake news here.
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"And in the end, it's not the years in your life that count. 
It's the life in your years."
~Attributed to Abraham Lincoln by the GOP. 

Sunday, February 5, 2017

Desert Rain Almost Deserts Oregon Graywater

Against all odds, and after six years of planning, permitting, and construction, the Desert Rain House constructed in Bend, Oregon achieved the Living Building Challenge Certification, the first residential project to be certified. If one is not familiar with the Living Building Challenge, there are seven “petals” that must be complied with, including a “place” petal. According to Treehugger, the "Water Petal is perhaps the most challenging and the most troubling".

Semantics mean everything,
and naming this tank meant
the difference between a
permit or no permit.
The builders maintained a blog on the project for those living building wonks that desire all of the gory details. In the posting Leading the Way to ‘YES’ – Permits and Policy, the trials and tribulations of working through the Oregon Graywater Permit situation "Desert Rain is one of the most innovative graywater projects to apply for a permit utilizing a primary, pre-treatment tank, then processing the graywater through the on site constructed wetland, into a 1,000 gallon holding tank, then pumping to a 5,000 gallon storage tank to be distributed for irrigation use. Due to the graywater being stored, Desert Rain had to apply for a Class II permit.  The Class II permit process is more involved requiring a system description and maintenance and operation guidelines."

After months of design, submittals, re-design, and re-submittals, the graywater system finally received approval. 

According to the International Living Future Institute, Desert Rain’s greywater system consists of four principal elements:

  • Primary tank for trapping solids and oils
  • Subsurface constructed wetland for secondary treatment of suspended solids and organic material
  • Storage for treated greywater
  • Irrigation system for treated greywater reuse

Desert Rain’s greywater treatment system was designed with the intent that it could be used in the future to treat not only the greywater, but all of the “wastewater” generated by the residence. The primary tank and constructed wetland are designed and sized to meet DEQ specifications for onsite wastewater treatment for three dwelling units – which is how DEQ classifies Desert Rain’s detached guest apartments. When the local sewer code is amended to allow onsite treatment and reuse of wastewater – including blackwater – Desert Rain’s constructed wetland system will be capable of treating (to reuse standards) the full wastewater from three residences. 

Recalling my experience with a Tier I permit, I felt their pain first hand. It has been over five years since the Oregon graywater guidelines were developed by a statewide advisory committee, so they are probably overdue for review given the experience of the 20 to 25 permits issued statewide to date.
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"The backbone of any improvement of governance, its development as well as its protection from any form of wastage or excessiveness, is a mechanism to place laws under the microscope of revision and modernization until they resonate in tune with the methodological development and new administrative technologies."
~Khalifa bin Zayed Al Nahyan, President of the United Arab Emirates 

Monday, January 16, 2017

America's Mosul Dams

Unless you are a dam engineer or dam(n) historian, dams are pretty boring news. In Norman Smith's classic treatise on dams - History of Dams - that received this great review when it came out decades ago, we learn that dams are some of the oldest structures on the planet dating back 5,000 years.

Dams are paradoxes, both loved and hated, serving as symbols of peace, and weapons of war. The latest news about the Mosul Dam, the fourth largest dam in the Middle East and located in Iraq, provides a good example. Like the vast majority of dams, the Mosul Dam had the typical mission of "controlling" water resources for agriculture and flood prevention.

The problem with Mosul Dam was the site geology got in the way of a good engineering project. The bedrock is gypsum, which is 100 times more soluble than limestone, leading to sinkholes and caves, not good things to try to pile a bunch of water near or store water on top of in large quantities. Of course, geotechnical engineers rarely let "geology" get in the way. All it will take is money and grout - and a lot of both.

But now with the human geography of the Middle East shifting with the advent of "populist" Springs, the control of nature, and the structures built to exert control, become targets to win. In this New Yorker article, Mosul Dam is considered a "bigger problem than ISIS". And this Al Jazeera article promotes the collapse of Mosul Dam would be "worse than a nuclear bomb." Even the Canadians are concerned as discussed in this CBC article and video where millions of Iraqis are at risk of flooding if the dam foundation were to collapse without its daily "injection" of the magic grout keeping the gypsum foundation from disintegrating.

America's love affair with dams has lead to something like 75,000 scattered across the US by the US Army Corps of Engineers, the federal Bureau of Reclamation, energy companies, and states that have the foresight to invest in water on their own like Wyoming.  As Norman Smith discussed, many of the proposed dams met their mission. Others, however, were not so lucky and failed, either by washing away, or were "leakers" meaning they never held water, or they barely held water. In at least one case outside the US, Smith describes the untimely demise of a dam design engineer when a king discovered that all of the water in his newly constructed dam leaked under the dam.

In the US, perhaps the most famous dam failure is the St. Francis Dam in California. The history and forensic engineering analysis of this catastrophic failure where a dam "tipped"over due to "hubric" overfilling is well documented by J. David Rogers in his incredible bookarticle, and presentation.

And then there are the dams like the Mosul Dam where the foundation of either the reservoir, dam abutments, or both, lead to the failure of the dam mission. Anchor Dam located in north central Wyoming is infamous for "leaking". I grew up in Wyoming and knew some of the contractors to the federal Bureau of Reclamation who constructed parts of the dam. Yet even with all of the information collected by the Bureau of Reclamation geologists and engineers, lots of myths and misinformation were shared with the public by prominent academic and government scientists. The misinformation lead to my paper to dispel some of the confusion regarding why the dam served as a money pit for so long (and continues to do so today).

One of my graduate students revisited the Tumalo Dam located in central Oregon. The dam was constructed over 100 years ago yet never held water due to sinkholes, presumably due to pirating of water by tubes and fractures in the volcanic rocks. Here is a video of someone from the area describing the turbid history. And here is the graduate student thesis exploring converting the "failed" dam site to managed aquifer storage and recovery.

But what about a dam that might rival Mosul Dam if it ultimately failed? Baker Dam in Washington state might fit this bill. Like the Tumalo Dam, the Baker Dam is almost 100 years old. And like the Tumalo Dam, much of the dam construction information was not documented, or in the case of Baker Dam, lost forever when a landslide destroyed the powerhouse where the documents were stored. Unlike Anchor and Tumalo dams, leakage occurred along the abutments following the initial filling of the reservoir, in part because no grout curtain was installed.

Seepage investigations indicate the possibility of the Baker Dam "failure". Concrete, Washington with a population of about 1,000, rests below Baker Dam, so while its failure would probably not rival a nuclear bomb in terms of lost life, the lost hydropower would likely be sorely missed in nearby Seattle.
* * * 
Law and order exist for the purpose of establishing justice and when they fail in this purpose they become the dangerously structured dams that block the flow of social progress. 
~Martin Luther King, Jr.

Saturday, January 7, 2017


The ultimate in sustainable buildings, a geodesic dome surrounding a cob house in northern Norway. Treehugger ran this great article and very well done video (10 minutes) on one family's adventure in building their "green" house in the Arctic Circle.  The greywater (gråvann) system can be viewed about two minutes into the video.
* * * 
“Progress is man's ability to complicate simplicity.”
 ~Thor-Heyerdahl (Norwegian ethnologist, 1914-2002)