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

Sunday, October 31, 2010

The Moral Hazard of Greywater

Thanks to Australian and Grand Greywatermaster Paul James for this article titled *Helicopter governments promote an illusion of safety*. The concept: "Here's a way to make driving safer: make it riskier".

The thesis is based on the studies by the University of Chicago economist Sam Peltzman who examined the American 1966 Motor Safety Act that mandated new car safety standards. "Instead of making driving safer, Peltzman found, the new standards prompted drivers to be more reckless on the roads, and endangered the lives of pedestrians. Other risk analysts have found the same occurred when seatbelt laws were introduced around the world".

"Economists call that ''moral hazard'' - when people feel they are insulated from the consequences of their actions and behave differently as a result".

Those darn economists again.

The article goes on to state that "We talk a lot about helicopter parents who over-parent and insulate their children from the world. The obvious downside of this kind of parenting is that children learn nothing about managing danger".

This all sounds well and good, but what is the connection to greywater you ask? Simple. It appears that state governments consider their expertise in blackwater to carry over to "greywater". The result is development of greywater reuse rules designed to "protect the public" when in fact the public is probably better at protecting themselves. Take the Wyoming Greywater Reuse rules, for example. A one-page, no-nonsense approach to greywater reuse, including the dreaded kitchensink greywater, more or less leaving the "safe" reuse of greywater to the citizen. 

The Rainbow Water Coalition has reported on the Wisconsin experience, where the state had to revise the greywater reuse rules because the original rules were too onerous to implement. 
Returning to the drawing board to make it easier for the public to reuse greywater resulted in new investments in water reuse research in Wisconsin.

Will more environmental rules and regulations on greywater reuse protect the public? As more US states begin the process of developing greywater reuse rules and regulations, one question they must address as they make their programs prescriptive is whether or not they have the resources for enforcement. Given the relative numbers of households that may adopt greywater reuse in the coming years as suggested by the AWWA, it is unlikely that any state will have the resources to "enforce" their rules. 

"Perhaps it's time to talk about helicopter governments as well: always hovering above their citizens, ready to swoop in the moment they stray off the safest path".  When it comes to greywater reuse, let the public protect the public from itself by reducing the "moral hazard" and assuming more of the risks. 

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