27 Mar 2009


In the comments to my post, greywater came up.

[Interested readers will want to revisit this post on greywater regulation and this one on health standards. Also get more information from the Greywater Alliance or Greywater Guerrillas.]

In this update (via DW), we get an idea of the silliness surrounding greywater regulations:
The vast majority of gray water systems in California don't have permits, making it difficult to quantify the phenomenon. State rules and local permitting requirements for using gray water are complicated and costly to follow, so most residents don't file the paperwork.

“You would be hard-pressed to find a law that is as widely flaunted,” said Art Ludwig, an ecology consultant in Santa Barbara. His Web site, oasisdesign.net, offers gray water tips and project plans.

Ludwig estimates that California has 1.8 million gray water systems.


County officials said it's illegal to divert washing-machine effluent for landscape irrigation without obtaining a permit, which involves filing detailed documents, submitting soil percolation data and completing an inspection.

“Gray water is untreated wastewater that has the potential to contain high levels of bacteria,” said Tom Lambert at the San Diego County Department of Environmental Health, which regulates gray water in the region. “Our first and foremost objective is to see that it is used in a way that will not create any public health risks.”

His database shows 41 permitted gray water systems countywide, but he acknowledges that unpermitted ones are widespread. Lambert said county agents don't go looking for renegade users.
Yeah -- let's go GET those renegades, those LAWBREAKERS who are trying to move water from inside their house to outside their house -- without a PERMIT!

I wonder what's next, a law forbidding a couple from sharing the same fork while eating cake?

Here's a challenge that I suggested to the greywater folks at the PG&E thing: Give a bunch of people new, plastic water bottles and tell them to drink, refill and reuse the bottled for 10 days. Then measure the bacteria. Then compare the results to the health codes of allowable bacteria, etc. in drinking water systems.

I am guessing that there will be PLENTY of nasty stuff growing on those bottles but -- you know what -- NOBODY CARES because those germs are THEIR germs. It's the same thing with greywater: If I want to pee in my garden or dump MY shower water on MY plants, well then let me. I am just spreading my germs all over MY PROPERTY.


So, if someone does that study, please send the results to me AND to those health fascists who are regulating the wrong things...

Bottom Line: Health officials, regulators and politicians should let us take care of the germs we knowingly inflict on ourselves and spend their energy protecting us from the things we cannot see, detect or avoid -- like pollution of groundwater, air, food, etc.


  1. DZ,

    What makes/made America great is that we are a nation of laws. Your advocation that the laws you don't like should be ignored or even deliberately broken is ill advised.

    In an earlier blog, you took a shot a Ms. Mulroy, the general manager of the Southern Nevada Water Authority SNWA, for her stance against gray water use in the SNWA jurisdiction. You failed to mention that the SNWA receives an augmentation credit back for all treated effluenct returned to the CO River. This credit is very important to the operations of the SNWA !

    This brings up another misconception: The average family of 3-4 diverts 0.4 acre feet of water a year, but the consumption is only 5-10% of that amount. Therefore, an acre foot of water per year if treated and reused is adequate for 20-25 families not the 2 that is always reported.

    The domestic use from wells is subject to strict permitting in some states and areas because the well owners are receiving the special privledge of use when according to the rules they should not be allowed any water in times of shortage. Well owners receive their permits and special privledges because they have accepted the conditions such as no gray water use. If they were to use the gray water, their consumptive use would jump from 5-10% to 100%. The 100% CU would require the water officials to enforce the law and shut them off completely !

    Municipal water suppliers may have very good reasons why they allow or don't allow the use of gray water. For one thing, it may render their sewage treatment systems ineffective or inoperative due to decreased flows or higher than normal concentrations of solids ... questions to ask rather than break the law.

    If CA doesn't want to end up like Zimbabwe with situations similar to the present colera epidemic, obey the health laws !

    Here is good example why we should obey the law:

    Mad cow disease, CWD, scapes, kuru, FFI, GSSS and CJD are all prions. All known prion diseases, collectively called transmissible spongiform encephalopathies (TSEs), are untreatable and fatal !
    Prions can be denatured by subjecting them to a temperatures of 134 degrees Celsius (That’s 273 F !… water boils at 212 F) for 18 minutes in a pressurized steam autoclave.
    The concern is that there’s so little known about prions, that we ought to be taking a protective, conservative approach.
    If anything goes wrong, contamination could render an entire underground aquifer inoperative. Still want everyone to flush pee on the ground ?

    As your readers know, I advocate the investigation of a vast natural fresh water resource that can solve many of the water shortage dilemmas of the SW region, but I do so based on strict adherence to the existing laws. To do otherwise would damage the environment and the water rights of others, which I absolutely will not be a party to.

    Ray Walker (Retired Water Rights Analyst) waterrdw@yahoo.com

  2. Annoying the self-serving rules of the bureaucrats are, there actually can be serious health and pollution concerns involved in setting up home greywater systems. The most important thing is that there be *no* communication between the toilet system and the greywater system; it's not as simple as simply diverting water from your sinks and bathtubs, unless they are totally isolated from the icky part of your system, and cleaned out with Clorox or similar after isolation. You are right that a jug of drinking water left in an open container for a couple of weeks will remain wholesome. But drain pipes that are or were connected to a toilet system can and do harbor many hazardous organisms, including ones that may have come up from the general cloaca maxima serving your whole neighborhood. Water that passes through these pipes, even if it has not come in direct contact with feces, etc. can still be quite dangerous.
    Dealing with this is all pretty easy to do in building a house but can be complicated in a retrofit. Simple things like diverting washing machine effluent and downspout runoff, are no-brainers.

  3. Does anyone have references on the bacterial effects of greywater and on the fate of these bacteria as they reside in the soil for a few weeks?

    I would like science not regulations.

    I am a scientist who has seen too many regulations that were easy to write but that ignored the science and the daily practice of that science.

    My favorite one was the one that could make you a criminal for taking a tea cup full of water out of Boston Harbor and pouring it back in.

    You see Boston Harbor was so polluted that water from Boston Harbor could not be poured back into it. A bilge pump for a boat would become law breaking.

    My second favorite is that a Kimwipe with acetone on it must be disposed of as expensive hazardous waste while if you leave the Kimwipe in a fume hood and talk on the phone for a few minutes, allowing the acetone to evaporate, the Kimwipe is now normal waste and can be disposed of cheaply.

    These particular examples may have been fixed, but you get the idea.

    I will admit that writing good regulations is dramatically harder than writing easy ones, especially if the writer does not have hands on experience with the subject of the regulation.


  4. Personally I like the greywater trend, although one needs to be careful I guess. It does foster an ethic, among other things.

  5. Our Roman tradition of defecating in toilets filled with drinking water seems like more of an issue than catching shower or washing machine water and dumping it on the raspberries.

  6. "I am just spreading my germs all over MY PROPERTY."

    That same thought was pretty much the standard before the age of environmental regulation (e.g. I can dump this stuff here because it is my property). One only needs to understand the effect that septic systems can have on groundwater quality to see that it is a misguided approach.

  7. @Ray -- you are right to talk about dangerous practices and the rule of law. You are wrong to imply that I want to flush my toilet onto my lawn or overthrow the constitution. I'm glad (as usual) to hear that you have 1MAF available...

    @Philip/Anon -- obviously I am talking greywater, NOT blackwater.

    @Eric/FMF/CF -- agreed.

  8. Ray Walker WaterSource28 Mar 2009, 13:58:00


    You wrote,

    If I want to pee in my garden or dump MY shower water on MY plants, well then let me. I am just spreading my germs all over MY PROPERTY.

    After pointing out Prions, I wrote,

    Still want everyone to flush pee on the ground ?

    You are wrong to imply that I want to flush my toilet onto my lawn.

    You are correct. It was your garden and you never mentioned using the toilet.

    Thanks for the honorable mention of the 1M AF Source. Upon further analysis, with a bit of cooperation in the region, water from the Source could be delivered without power and the delivery system can be quagga proofed.

    Here's a beer toast to your garden / jardin.



Read this first!

Make sure you copy your comment before submitting because sometimes the system will malfunction and you will lose your comment.

Spam will be deleted.

Comments on older posts must be approved (do not submit twice).

If you're having problems posting, email your comment to me