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

Saturday, February 20, 2010


The news of Alexander Haig's death today reminded me of the Watergate scandal. General Haig was the White House Chief of Staff during the Nixon Administration, and apparently convinced Nixon to resign because of Watergate. The Watergate scandal has lead to echoes of controversy and conspiracies such as the current discussion on "Climategate" where emails were hacked from one of the main research units and disseminated across the web, thus providing anti-globalwarming enthusiasts with the smoking gun that global warming is a hoax. But one of the victims of the Watergate scandal that few hear about was L. Patrick Gray, Watergate-era FBI Director who was appointed after J. Edgar Hoover died. Gray resigned in 1973 after serving less than one year. According to Wikipedia "For the next eight years, Gray defended his actions as acting FBI director, testifying before five federal grand juries and four committees of Congress. On October 7, 1975, the Watergate Special Prosecutor informed Gray that the last Watergate-related investigation of him had been formally closed. Gray was never indicted in relation to Watergate but the scandal dogged him afterwards". For many years, some journalists considered Gray to be the infamous "Deep Throat" who was feeding the Washington Post with the gory details of the Watergate scandal, but it turned out that "Deep Throat" was Gray's deputy, Mark Felt.  He died in 2005 soon after Felt confessed to being "Deep Throat". Gray's son published a book after Gray's death where it "...became clear that he had been manipulated by the Nixon White House". 

So, what does all of this have to do with graywater?

One thing I have begun to notice since beginning my work on the Oregon Graywater Advisory Committee is how nervous public agencies and government are about greywater. Many of the volunteers on the Graywater Advisory Committee are connected to public agencies through their work as water/wastewater treatment specialists, health specialists, regulators of many different forms, and attorneys. And as the sole academic "observer", I sense a coalition building on stringent regulation of greywater reuse, especially as it relates to kitchen sink wastewater.  What is remarkable is that I see this same position in the news. The Australians point out this conundrum in this article titled "Recycled Water Won't Kill You" where a government council voted against using recycled water as an option despite water shortages. In another water short country, the  Israel National News Arutz Sheva reported the " Health Ministry: Home 'Gray Water' Kits Dangerous", yet in the same issue of Arutz Sheva an article proclaims "Teens' Study Insists Gray Water is Safe" and the students are participating in an "...international water science fair in Stockholm, where Israel is being represented by members of TA University's Engineering Department. The University has given the teenagers an award for their accomplishment, and the Stockholm contest, which takes place later this year, could net them a prize of $5,000." In previous postings, Pat Mulroy of the Southern Nevada Water Authority is colorblind to greywater reuse and wants the "green" building community to recognize her efforts at recycling water (purplewater). The Graywater Policy and Science Center makes a plea for reality-based standards for California so that greywater reuse becomes more mainstream.  The Corvallis Sustainability Coalition Water Action Team wants to build a greywater reuse demonstration project at a local food co-op, but describes the reason why they can't do this is because it is "code challenged".    

Why is government trying to manipulate greywater reuse?      


  1. The city of Los Angeles just revised the recently enacted Carlifornia Greywater Standards (CPC chapter 16A) to require permits for all systems except laundry, as opposed to all laundry and/or single-fixture systems as per 16A. This basically takes any kind of bathtub or shower greywater system off the table since it's too onerous to get a permit, requiring health department approval, geotechnical reports, etc.
    http://www.ladbs.org/faq/info bulletins/plumbing code/2008/IB-P-PC 2008-012 Graywater.pdf

  2. This is the case in the statewide CA standards, not just LA. Further, with a regulation that has not been replicated anywhere in the world that I am aware of - a permit is not required ONLY if an extra pump is not used (apart from the washing machine pump).

    The reasoning? If an extra pump is used (even a small 12 volt pump), it is deemed likely that a professional will be required to install it (huh?) and therefore a construction permit is required (double huh?).

    Using the washing machine motor to pressurize an irrigation system (as described in the laundry to landscape system) is bad news. It does result in blown motors.

    Using a simple open ended hose connected to a washing machine outlet is worse for the garden, due to flooding effects and potential for concentration of high PH water in certain areas of the garden, killing certain plants.

    Hopefully CA will modify the regulations in the not too distant future to recommend best practice methods rather than discouraging them.

  3. I've seen this kind of reaction often. One idea that I've had is that government doesn't like to impose new rules on living, breathing people that are staring at them across a table. If the rule can be imposed in such a way that a fuzzy, out-of-focus possible future people is affected, then that is much better. So creating a permit process that requires a lot of hoops to do something with existing houses or business creates the not so subtle incentive to only trudge through the process when new houses or businesses are built. Then all the permits and hoops are concentrated on what become specialists in the building trades at jumping through said hoops. While graywater reuse is a societally good thing and the agencies should not have people PO'd that they're getting more regulation, in fact it should be the other way around, that the people should be up in arms PO'd that the hoops are so bad, the agency mindset is, for lack of a better term, set. And the status quo way of agencies interacting with a regulated community is that of a babysitter of people that don't know what's good for them. And to add further frustration, if you point out that te babysat actually knows there's a better way to do business, the agencies will shrug their shoulders and say that they are stuck with doing things by the rule book. A gross simplification. Oh, did I mention? Permits are revenue...

  4. Leigh, Paul and OWT:

    Thanks for these comments. I agree that an opportunity will be lost with onerous permits. And the potential fees are nothing to be taken lightly. I read that about 14% of California homes reuse greywater. That is estimated at over 1 million homes. Oregon has about 1.4 million homes. Let's assume that greywater reuse is not as *accepted* as in California - say 10% participate, or 140,000 homes. Let's also assume that a permit fee of $100 is required - a low fee based on Oregon DEQ wastewater permits. The potential revenue adds up quickly, and like the permit exempt wells that exist in Oregon and other western states, there will never be enough funding to have staff actually look at each permit.

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