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

Saturday, January 16, 2010

The Groan Zone

The Oregon Graywater Advisory Committee met on January 14, 2010.  After approving the meeting minutes from the first meeting which will be posted soon at the Graywater Advisory Commitee site the group got down to the hard work of learning about different greywater systems that are in "use" within Oregon.  I use the word "use" lightly because the examples that were shown ranged from diverting greywater for "phytoremediation" or treatment by plants, to simply discharging the greywater from a pipe in a wall outside a person's home.  The DEQ staff then introduced the group to the different permitting procedures and associated costs for application and renewals for DEQ water quality permits.  I will post more on the permitting issue as the group works on this topic, but I will report that the permitting and evaluation costs for existing water quality permits run into the hundreds of dollars, even for hand-carried greywater disposal of less than 10 gallons per day in sumps. The biggest surprise was the lack of permit fees or renewal fees for offstream placer mining!  This must be a legacy issue from the Oregon Trail days.

One exercise that the group went through during the first meeting was listing the different uses of greywater that one can view on the meeting minutes. The list was pretty impressive, ranging in scale from small (domestic, eco-roofs, living walls) to medium commercial and industrial (well drilling water, construction applications, heating and cooling systems), and large (agriculture).  But things took a different turn when the issue of integrating "kitchen" sink wastewater into the mix. And this surprised me because under House Bill 2080, graywater was defined to include shower and bath wastewater, bathroom sink water, kitchen sink wastewater, and laundry wastewater.  I am very new to this process, so I thought the issue of kitchen sink wastewater had been resolved during the deliberations of HB 2080, especially considering that other states that permit kitchen sink greywater reuse include our neighbor Washington, other "westerners" like Montana, as well as Massachusetts.  And so we entered what is best decribed as "The Groan Zone" for those familiar with participatory decision-making as described in Sam Kaner's excellent book  on facilitation.  The Groan Zone is a normal part of the deliberative process characterized by exasperation, frustration, confusion, perplexity, and boredom.

What I heard was research focusing on the "bad" things associated with kitchen sink wastewater, such as concerns about elevated numbers of bacteria, fats, oils, grease, soap and detergent residue, all of which did not surprise me or should not surprise anyone for that matter.  This evolved into trying to designate uses for different "colors" of greywater with kitchen sink wastewater referred to as "dark grey", and other greywaters as "medium grey" and "light grey" which would then apply to which uses would be suitable for these different colors of greywater.  Don't ask about what metrics would be used to designate these different colors of greywater as I had to leave early to catch a train.  But I can imagine the challenges associated with trying to come up with metrics to differentiate between the "different shades of grey" to enforce the uses of greywater based on this color scheme.  What I did not hear was why was kitchen sink wastewater was included in HB 2080?  Was there any research that was contrary to the "dark" side of kitchen sink wastewater?  The Rainbow Water Coalition posted this short video from the grand master of rainwater harvesting and greywater reuse - the Zen Rainman - who now has his own channel on YouTube (see greywater goodies on The Rainbow Water Coalition for direct link).  Most of the concerns from the group regarding kitchen sink wastewater were addressed by Zen Rainman and his simple treatment system.  When I left, it sounded like the group was stuck in an "eddy" on the different shades of greywater.

Unfortunately, the Graywater Advisory Group discussions did not make it to the sticky issue of identifying a power-house eco-couple to carry the greywater message forward to Oregonians.  I suspect we will reenter the Groan Zone again when we address that topic.


  1. Todd,

    great article.

    A bit about myself, my Australian company is the leading graywater irrigation system manufacturer in Melbourne, Australia. We established a US company last year (my wife is American) expressely to manufacture new graywater systems for the US market, based on our Australian experience. I am also on the review panel for the 2010 IAPMO green plumbing guide.

    Can I encourage you to visit a couple of websites related to new products being released on the US market approx 25 Jan **even if only because they are being manufactured / assembled in Eugene OR(quite the coincidence)****

    The problem with graywater has always been achieving cost effective, low maintenance, even irrigation. This was solved in Australia by Netafim, with the release of 'Tiran' graywater dripperline. The first batch of equivalent dripperline is being manaufactured *right now* by Netafim in Fresno, for Just Water Savers USA, marketed as 'Irrigray'.

    Other new products can be discussed as well, but not on a blog.

    Would be great to establish a dialogue.

    My email is paul@justwatersaversusa.com

    www.graywatergardening - a new reference website established by us, as most current US websites recommend practices that went out of practice in Australia 10 years ago.

    www.justwatersaversusa.com (company website)
    www.irrigray.com dripperline kit
    www.graybarrel.com (ready 25 jan 2010)

    ps re kitchen water.....hmmm... for garden health, the kitchen water should only be used if a grease trap is installed. Also strongly avoid dishwasher water due to very high alkalinity.

  2. I really found your article interesting and informative.
    I am always interested in learning about water conservation.
    Fifteen years ago I would have never guessed that I would purchase water from a store
    or filter my drinking water from the tap. I believe water is a commodity that we all take for granted in North America.

    In Canada we are selling a product that would make greywater reusable for other applications.
    I can only imagine that the possible reuse of greywater from the restaurant and industry would be a staggering number in gallons.

    The goslyn is used in restaurants and commercial kitchens.

    Goslyn is an automatic grease recovery device that is more efficient and cost-effective alternative to a traditional grease trap. The unique separation system continuously and permanently removes fats, oil and grease from waste effluent. There is no grease build up as is the case with traditional traps. Solid waste is trapped in a strainer; oils and grease are captured in a cassette 100 per cent ready for recycling. This innovative system does not require any moving parts; rather, it operates under a combination of hydro static pressure and heat.

    The Goslyn recovers around 99% of the fat, oil and grease from the waste effluent or greywater.

    Our site is www.greasetrap.ca
    Youtube : www.youtube.com/user/thegoslyn


    Glenn Martin

  3. The Groan Zone is right. Hope you find the legislative history for the kitchen sink addition - sometimes the rational behind the rules can be illuminating, particularly in light of all the study, in this subject area about the potential problems with kitchen sink wastewater. Permitting processes are a big bone of contention when I've seen DEQ raking people over the fee and permitting coals for graywater reuse and then turning around and granting generous variances and fee waivers for off the cuff wastewater treatment systems (that include blackwater).

  4. Paul, Glenn and OWT: Thanks for these great comments and suggestions. I can see that an extended *Greywater Gadget of the Week* posting is in order.

    OWT, the kitchen sink wastewater issue is interesting, but I guess I am desensitized to the use of kitchen sink wastewater use when I observe the diary at Derry, Oregon using fire-house sized sprinklers spraying the *treated* discharge from their operations on nearby fields along Highway 20, which I am assuming has some sort of state-approved discharge permit. And the kitchen sink wastewater treatment system shown by Zen Rainman seems painfully simple and effective. But it is important to go through the Groan Zone to learn more. I will keep all friends of greywater posted.

  5. I really liked zenrainman's vid as well. A very straightforward treatment train and I have no issue with using the effluent from this kind of process. After all, I know of so many little water features in backyards that would be so easy to retrofit into this kind of approach. Perhaps my only real concern comes from first hand experience of 1) people who refuse to even consider even minimal treatment (which can be taken care of if minimal treatment is required) and 2) what kids and dogs, etc. do with water or wet areas they find in the yard...but again, minimum standards can take care of any significant issues there and it's probably just as well to avoid the slurps from your friendly neighborhood pooch in any case...