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

Monday, April 5, 2010

Greywater Grifting & Collaborative Learning

We left the last episode with a cursory look at applying the On-site or UIC standards to a graywater rule in Oregon.  We also left with "Ludwig's Law"- "Experience with groundwater contamination from septics [and UIC] does not translate to greywater".

And now we are presented with the OOSU corollary to Ludwig's Law (oo as in "zoo" and su as in let's "sue" them sonofaguns) : "Experience with groundwater contamination from greywater does translate to septics".

In this article from the Columbus Dispatch we learn that the State of Ohio, home of the "other" OSU (THE Ohio State University - the 2010 Rose Bowl victors who thumped Oregon) the solution to septic tank pollution "...can be measured in inches".  According to the article "Septic systems rely on dirt to finish treating sewage released from the tanks. Soil bacteria break down human wastes and destroy bacteria and viruses".

A new bill is being introduced to "...create an 18-inch soil standard".  According to the manager of the Ohio Department of Health's residential water and sewage program "Eighteen inches was a compromise," and "We believe it's the bare minimum that would be protective of public health." The Ohio State University researcher said at least 4 feet of soil is needed to ensure that bacteria and viruses in sewage are safely eliminated.  If this does not make sense, take a look at this diagram which depicts the process.

This is an interesting article in that it apparently shows using the soil profile to treat "blackwater" pretty much like that used by greywater "gangsters" - "dumping" it on the ground surface as diffuse flow and letting soil microbes work their magic.  Look, even New Mexico State University indicates that soil is the best treatment option for greywater.  The article also alludes to the nexus between science and public policy was reached using the principles of Collaborative Learning that were developed at Oregon State University (OSU) by Dr. Gregg Walker shown in this photo.

Collaborative Learning draws upon systems thinking, conflict management, and alternative dispute resolution. Collaborative Learning approaches are well suited for natural resource, environmental and community decision making situations that include (1) multiple parties; (2) multiple issues; (3) scientific and technical uncertainty; and (4) legal and jurisdictional constraints. The advantages of Collaborative Learning approaches to conflict management for this project include the following:

  • It is learning-based public participation;
  • Stakeholders learn from one another;
  • Agencies (Departments within municipalities) interact as stakeholders;
  • Technical/Scientific and traditional/local knowledge are respected; and
  • Public participation activities are accessible and inclusive.
Note that a compromise was reached between the scientists, policymakers, and politicians in Ohio.  This stuff really does work!

So, perhaps all is needed is a shovel to complete the site testing standards for greywater reuse in Oregon. If a person digs down one to two feet and encounters water, then their property is probably not well suited for greywater reuse that is protective of groundwater without some modifications such as that proposed by the "other OSU". No dueling experts "hustling" about; agreement on what is "protective of public health"; and a minimal investment in the site evaluation - the cost of a shovel. No con jobs in this approach. 

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