I shared information from a recent newspaper article in the Santa Cruz Sentinel which described how greywater could be beneficial on many fronts. "For those rural homes using septic systems, the reasons to install a graywater diversion system are especially compelling. Graywater puts an immense strain on leach fields, and helps to max out your septic tank. Diverting your graywater into your landscape helps alleviate this problem and actually leads to less contamination of groundwater....In fact, the ecosystem of a mulch basin around a plant makes for a very effective wastewater treatment system. and wastewater is filtered more effectively when released on the surface of the ground rather than under....The microbes in the soil convert organic impurities in the wastewater into nutrients, which are then available for uptake by the roots of the plants. The result is water that is purer than what is discharged from a sewage treatment plant" (emphasis added).
I was particularly interested in hearing the response of the many wastewater treatment experts serving on the committee regarding this last statement. I suspect that much of this information in the article was derived from greywater expert Laura Allen of Bay Area Greywater Action (see greywater goodies on this blog for more information).
The response from many in the committee - laughter that the information came from a newspaper. I can only assume they thought I was part of a larger confidence game with Laura Allen and Art Ludwig.
I was surprised by the committee's response given that MIT Urban Planning Professor and conflict resolution expert Lawrence Susskind indicates that newspaper articles and letters to the editor are important in the discourse on resource planning because the United States is a representative democracy where “...we can count on the media to help citizens educate themselves about the issues being deliberated by their elected representatives". (see Susskind, L. 2005. Resource Planning, Dispute Resolution, and Adaptive Governance. In Adaptive Governance and Water Conflict: New Institutions for Collaborative Planning, J.T. Scholz and B. Stiftel, editors. Washington, DC: Resources for the Future, pp. 141- 149).
But let's look at the bigger picture. In an editorial published in a recent edition of the Journal of Water Resources Planning and Management by former longtime World Bank consultant and Harvard Professor John Briscoe titled "The practice and teaching of American water management in a changing world", Briscoe indicates that: "The new generation of partnerships must involve, inter alia:
- A focus on the real world, and thus an emphasis on partnerships (a) between practitioners-who-think, and researchers-who-understand-practice...and (b) to engage with the progressive private sector which is likely to be the source of much innovation in the water domain"(emphasis added).
I think some of the confusion regarding the greywater-groundwater nexus focused on the fact that many of the committee members work directly, or indirectly, in the wastewater business. As a consequence, their perception of greywater may be "tainted" by this bias. In a recent lecture on greywater vs. septic tank effluent, Oasis Design greywater expert Art Ludwig, indicates the following:
- "Experience with groundwater contamination from septics does not translate to greywater"; and
- "In over 20 years of working in the greywater field, I have never heard of groundwater contamination from any of the 8 million greywater systems in the US. It is not likely that this has ever, or will ever occur" (emphasis added).