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

Friday, May 25, 2012

Feeling Good about Oregon Greywater

A BIG week in greywater news in Oregon. Recalling this article in the regional newspaper, the Statesman Journal, where ...Ken Vanderford, a wastewater operations supervisor with the city of Eugene who advised the state agency on graywater use [stated]. “The benefit now will come from people feeling good that they’re reducing their footprint on the environment.

Well, Ken, I feel good that I received my greywater reuse permit for outdoor use of the dreaded kitchensink water using this world-class greywater reuse system from the Oregon DEQ after only a few weeks of internal review. The Corvallis Sustainability Coalition  also reports that the three OSU Engineering Students just got the permit approved for the graywater project at the South Co-op to reuse greywater and rainwater for flushing toilets. And the People's Coop in Portland just notified the Rainbow Water Coalition that they received their greywater reuse permit for indoor use for flushing toilets and are preparing their application for greywater reuse outdoors soon. But first, they are preparing a documentary video on their greywater system and asked to interview the Rainbow Water Coalition. Here comes that feel good feeling.

It took me four hours to fill out the application for a greywater reuse permit. And this investment in time is from someone who is well versed in locating information online given that I teach natural resources courses online. First, the "pdf" form would not permit online typing when I prepared the application, but this has apparently been fixed.

But more importantly, much of the requested information is simply not relevant and very time consuming to locate. The user guide developed by a student at Portland State University is very handy and well done, but it assumes that most folks have a good knowledge of where to track down information. First bit of advice - ignore the reference to where to locate latitude and longitude information and use the online application Google Earth. Not only will you be able to track down the lat-long information for the subject property, but you have the map for the site description described later in this post. Use the little ruler to make your scale and you are almost done - with one small part of the permit.

Box 3 requests Township-Section-Range and Tax Lot for some unknown reason. This should be simple to find, especially this time of year when property tax information is used for the tax season, right? Wrong. This information is not on the tax assessment. So, one has to visit the county website for the information, and in Polk County where the subject greywater reuse system will be used, this "important" information was located in three different spots on the webpage. This information is meaningless for the applied use, so it is the first step in wasting your time. But when you have this information, you will feel good.

Next time consuming step? Section 3 titled Graywater Reuse and Disposal System Documents.  Here one has to provide the System Design Plan, Graywater Irrigation Site Evaluation, and Operation and Maintenance Manual. Here is where we see the influence of the blackwater crowd on the greywater issue.

The Site Design Plan is fairly straightforward. The ODEQ requires a sketch of the property. As previously stated, I used Google Earth to make the Site Plan because one can easily add a scale, north arrow, and highlight nearby well locations, drainages, etc., then use a screen shot to paste into a word processing package for additional editing to supplement the permit application.

The Graywater Irrigation Site Evaluation is the next large investment in time. Past postings have described the risks with adopting the septic tank siting approach to greywater reuse systems, especially the dumb idea of requiring a four-foot deep test hole to determine the depth to groundwater and the soil profile. Why is this a dumb idea? Because the hole that is dug now serves as a conduit to the groundwater, even if it is backfilled. As the only hydrogeologist on the advisory committee before resigning (this was one of the big reasons, the other was the permit requirement since other states abandoned this notion), I tried to argue against this proposal.

What did I do instead of digging a hole? I used the Oregon Water Resources Department well log database  which stockpiles data on the nearly 275,000 wells drilled in Oregon. Most areas are drilled like pin cushions with monitoring wells searching for the pollution left over from the gas station era. These wells are installed by licensed well drilling contractors with samples described by licensed geologists and engineers. Digging a hole, describing the soil, measuring the depth to groundwater, and completing an infiltration test sounds almost like practicing geology and/or engineering before the public, to protect the public. Your back will feel good if you opt to use the well log database instead of digging the four-foot deep hole with a shovel.

The infiltration test is another holdover from the septic tank design standards, again inappropriate for greywater reuse evaluation. This is old news. What did I use in place of this inappropriate test? The comprehensive online soil property database maintained USDA NRCS and organized by Oregon county provided the hydraulic properties using a nifty webmapper.

The Operation and Maintenance Manual is a strange requirement, especially if the system is a Do-It-Yourself set-up that experts like Greywater Action teaches greywater aficionados who will soon be moving into Oregon to practice their trade. But in the spirit of cooperation and with the kind assistance of JustWaterSavers, USA, I prepared an O & M manual for my greywater reuse system which Paul James described as a "bucket" - the Hughie Sink.

So, for a $90 permit application fee and four hours of time invested in the paperwork, I can now legally use my $25 Hughie Sink.

Yes, I feel good about greywater.
* * *
There is no such thing as free regulation.
~John Hutton

1 comment:

  1. Todd,
    I feel good that you feel good. I am sure the DEQ feels good now too.