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Gray Water: What It Is and How It Can Save California



(originally posted February 15, 2009 just before the State of California adopted a gray-water code; edited and reposted March 2, 2014 in the midst of one of California's worst droughts)

GREYWATER ACTION (Editor's Note: Riptide follows American spelling—gray; the British spell it grey.)

We have an opportunity to save rivers, fisheries, money, and perhaps the planet, keeping it habitable for future generations. My plumbing customers may have heard this rant already and may want to skip ahead to the forwarded message below. For the rest of you, my rant goes like this:

Advances in plumbing codes have been at least as effective as advances in medicine in promoting human health and longevity—possibly even more so. One aspect of the codes instrumental in curtailing or eradicating many waterborne and airborne diseases is the requirement that water be used only once before being sent to sewage treatment. The problem with this blanket approach is that it needlessly wastes precious potable water.

We have remained blissfully ignorant of the costs of our wastefulness to the environment for a long time, but that is changing rapidly. Did you know that the United States is the last Pacific Rim nation to use potable water to flush toilets?

The consequences of our wastefulness are immense and growing. It is not surprising that arid southwestern states such as Arizona, New Mexico, and Texas have pioneered gray-water legislation. These states have gray-water plumbing codes aimed at safely reusing some of the water from laundries, bathtubs, showers, and washbasins without reintroducing any of the health hazards that the current Uniform Plumbing Code and National Plumbing Codes control. Many progressive environmentalists already use gray water, at odds with applicable state and local codes.

(As a plumbing contractor, I can now design systems easily convertible to gray water now that California has adopted a gray-water code. As a friend, I often offer advice or recommend books on gray water to my customers.)

GREYWATER ACTION is an excellent information source. It is essential to do gray-water systems correctly to avoid reintroducing waterborne and airborne diseases. It is very important that all communities, even if not now in water shortage, drought, or water rationing, adopt some form of gray-water code, as the State of California already has done.

(Dan B. Underhill, California Plumbing License Number 552716, is a member but not a spokesman for the International Association of Plumbing and Mechanical Officials [IAPMO], cheerleader for Greywater Action. Dan is a founding member and longtime supporter of Pacifica Riptide.)


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Dan is a great plumber. We call him every time we have a plumbing issue. I pray ye all do the same.

Thanks, Dan -- Hope to call you soon to get this implemented at our house. It is important to get this done correctly, by a professional such as yourself.

Also, a hot-water recirculating system saves about 10 percent on the monthly water bill.

If you have sprinkler timers, adjust them. I drive around when it's pouring rain, and people's sprinklers are flooding the grass and all that water is just running down the street.

Plus, put rationing on the Southern California water stealers.

I must admit that I haven't stayed up-to-date on the laws around gray-water use. I refer people to There you can learn to do your own system or find someone who doesn't have to charge like a plumbing contractor to set up your gray-water system. I expect that any cutting into a waste pipe of any kind will require a permit and might well require a plumbing contractor for the initial part of the job. Wastewater can be dangerous stuff, which is why we have plumbing codes, and it is why those states (including California) that allow gray-water use have very specific approved ways of designing your gray-water system.

Also, Karen, that is an excellent idea. Kitchen sink water as gray water is quite controversial once it goes down the drain. I, for one, would not consider cutting into a kitchen sink drain for a gray-water system. It might not be so dangerous in a totally vegan household, but I still wouldn't do it. Your method, catching it before it goes down the drain, is excellent. You know what is in it and if you have washed a chicken in there, you can dump it down the drain instead of on your garden.

I think that California may have passed a law allowing gray water shortly after the original article was written in 2009:

Dan, I just sent off an email asking for these changes to be made.

Over the last few months, I have become more conscious of ways that I can use water twice. My favorite recommendation is to place a large non-breakable bowl in your kitchen sink to collect water used in food prep. Rinse water from veggies and pasta water and dishes just needing a quick rinse goes into the bowl. It is amazing how fast this bowl gets filled up doing just this. I then use the water on my houseplants. Doing this helps to cut down on my water bill as well as remind me to water my plants!

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