Monday, October 20, 2008

Grey Water For Green Spaces

A few months ago, I received an email from a woman representing the Grey Water Guerrillas trying to organize people to campaign for local ordinances friendly to the concept of grey water reuse at businesses and residences.

My response to her was not too optimistic about getting local or State Health Departments to ever get less cautious about grey water reuse. Remember, a bureaucrat's first job is always CYA, so don't think that a professional health guardian will ever do less to prevent you from spreading disease, even during a serious drought.

Another proponent is taking hope in an actual greywater system that was permitted by the City & People's Republic of Berkeley. His comments can be Downloaded if your curiosity and quest for knowledge care to read Download2 even more.

When a recent call went out by a regional waste(d)water group to speak at a seminar on greywater, no one from the public sector or the many consultant engineers wanted to be a speaker. The only written flyer the organizers could supply was from Australia:

Manual Bucketing & Temporary
Diversion of Greywater

Greywater is wastewater generated from bathrooms (showers, baths, spas,
and hand basins), laundries (washing machines, troughs) and kitchens (sinks
and dishwashers). However, kitchen water can contain food particles, grease,
oils and fats and its use is not recommended (particularly without treatment).

Greywater Characteristics
The quality of greywater can be highly
variable due to factors such as number of
household occupants, their age, lifestyle,
health, water source and products used
(such as soaps, shampoos, detergents).
Greywater may contain:
• Disease causing organisms (bacteria,
viruses, protozoa) from nappies and
other soiled clothing.
• Chemicals from soaps, shampoos,
dyes, mouthwash, toothpaste,
detergents, bleaches, disinfectants and
other products (such as boron,
phosphorus, sodium, ammonia and
other nitrogen based compounds).
• Dirt, lint, food, hair, body cells and fats,
and traces of faeces, urine, and blood.
Risks presented by these contaminants
can be reduced by good management
practices and by sensible use.
Manual Bucketing & Temporary
Manual bucketing onto lawn and garden
areas using water from the bathroom or
laundry, or temporary use of a hose
manually fitted to the washing machine
outlet hose, is permitted subject to the
following advice:
• Don’t use greywater from washing
clothes soiled by faeces or vomit, for
example, nappies.
• Don’t store untreated greywater for
more than 24 hours, as bacteria and
organic contaminants in greywater will
cause it to turn septic and produce
strong and offensive odours.
• Don’t use greywater if others in the
household have diarrhoea or an
infectious disease, as this could
increase the risk of other people
becoming ill.
• Don’t use greywater to irrigate fruit,
vegetables, or areas where fruit can fall
to the ground and be eaten.
• Avoid splashing of greywater and wash
your hands before eating or drinking or
• Keep children away from areas watered
with greywater until it has soaked into
the ground.
Chemical contaminants: detergents,
cleaners and other chemicals
• Environmentally friendly shampoos,
detergents and cleaning products
should be used to protect soil and
plants watered with grey water.
Products containing low levels of boron,
phosphorus and salt should be used.
Boron can be toxic to plants, some
native plants are sensitive to
phosphorous while sodium and other
salts can damage soil structure.
• Washing machine rinse water has lower
concentrations of detergents compared
to wash water. If wash water is used it
should be diluted with rinse water.
• Bleaches and disinfectants can kill
beneficial soil organisms and damage
plants. Avoid using greywater
containing harsh chemicals or bleaches,
or after washing out hair dye or paint
• A useful website that contains
information on laundry products is
Sensible use
• The irrigation setback distances from
swimming pools, bores, dams,
watercourses (inc. River Murray),
buildings and boundaries must be met.
See Section 5 of the Standard for the
Construction, Installation and Operation
of Septic Tank Systems in South
Australia (Supplement B)

Greywater tends to be slightly alkaline
and this can be harmful to acid loving
plants such as azaleas and camellias.
• Rotate greywater irrigation using mains
(drinking) or rain water, especially in
areas of low rainfall. This will help to
flush salts from the soil.
• Water several locations. This will
prevent salts and other contaminants
accumulating in the soil.
• Prevent pooling and runoff of greywater
onto other properties, into watercourses
and the stormwater system. Pooled
greywater can turn septic and produce
offensive odours.
• Don’t over-water your plants –
greywater shouldn’t be used to irrigate
more than you would with other sources
of water. Plants are susceptible to
waterlogged soil.
• Monitor areas and plants irrigated with
greywater. If there is visual evidence of
damage you may need to modify
watering practices, try a different or
bigger irrigation area, or reduce the
amount of water used.
Soils in many parts of Adelaide have a
high clay content. Clay soils tend to be
more susceptible to build up of salts and
have low permeability. Extra care should
be taken when using greywater in areas of
clay soils to avoid long term damage.
Permanent Greywater Systems
Permanent greywater systems such as
diversion devices or treatment systems, or
any device attached to plumbing, can
increase the use of greywater. However
due to potential risks associated with grey
water, permanent devices require
installation approval from your Council or
the Department of Health.
Information on permanent greywater
systems can be obtained from our
Alternative Onsite Wastewater Systems

Wastewater Management Section
Public Health
SA Health

1st floor
Citi Centre Building
11 Hindmarsh Square
Adelaide SA 5000

PO Box 6, Rundle Mall
Adelaide SA 5000

Tel 08 8226 7100
Fax 08 8226 7102

ABN 97 643 356 590


© Department of Health, Government of South
All rights reserved.

Last revised August 2008

But the real folks leading the local charge on grey water are those that actually do it and tell others about their experience. My neighbors Angelica & Sergio recently put the following in our weekly CSA e-mail:

Heard about California's water crisis? For so long we have been letting go of precious (grey) water down our home drains. Our own MANO member Pat Ferraro, former water district board director for Santa Clara Valley taught us the simple thing of saving our bath water to flush the toilet, rather than using 5-6 gallons of clean water every time we flush. Read more about water concerns at Pat's great blog . As of last weekend we became true guerrillas, as we disconnected our sewer pipes in the bathroom and kitchen sinks to hold on to that water, and the washing machine too. It has made a great difference in the garden and compost piles. Read on about greywater.
What is grey water?
Greywater is water that flows down sink, shower, and washing machine drains--but not the toilet. Greywater may contain traces of dirt, food, grease, hair, and household cleaning products. While greywater may look “dirty,” it is a safe and even beneficial source of irrigation water. If released into rivers, lakes, or estuaries, the nutrients in greywater (mainly phosphate from detergent) become pollutants, but to garden plants, they are valuable fertilizer. Aside from the obvious benefits of saving water (and money on your water bill), reusing your greywater keeps it out of the sewer or septic system, thereby reducing the chance that it will pollute local water bodies Reusing greywater for irrigation reconnects urban residents and our backyard gardens to the natural water cycle.

You probably won't hear much from any public agency like San Jose or the Water District encouraging grey water reuse, because of their concern over crossing the health officials they deal with on many other issues. This is unfortunate for the people running water efficiency programs at either agency, for grey water use reduces both water demand and wastewater flow to the South Bay.

San Jose has a State-mandated flow cap on their waste(d)water discharge into the South Bay during summer months. This restriction is in place to keep salt marsh habitat from changing to fresh water marsh due to the large volume of low salinity water coming from the water pollution control plant.
And when that habitat is home to two endangered species, San Jose is required to do whatever it takes to comply with the State's order.

Until this State mandate, all the engineering and economic studies that had been funded to examine the feasibility of water recycling were never able to get a positive political response from local decision makers at either San Jose or the Water District. It took a federal law, the Endangered Species Act, to move past the culture of built-in bias against water recycling at the Water District. And as long as San Jose could continue to get all the water it needed for continued growth, the City had no concern of their own about the ever increasing flow of waste(d)water to the Bay, except to make the plant capacity bigger and meet the standard discharge requirements.

All that changed when the State of California issued the order to cap the summer discharge from the San Jose-Santa Clara Water Pollution Control Plant at 120 million gallons per day (mgd). Today, San Jose
has built 108 miles of purple pipe and pump stations which today delivers 10-15 million gallons per day of non-potable reclaimed water through a program called South Bay Water Recycling, managed by my friend and neighbor, Eric Rosenblum.

Much of this water is used for irrigating green spaces, parks, athletic fields, school grounds, common areas and parkway landscaping on major thoroughfares. All this irrigation is also highly regulated by the State Health department, with a continuously cautious eye from the local health department and potablewater purveyors. The latest use of this water will be to irrigate the new community gardens at Guadalupe Parks and Gardens near the corner of Coleman Aveue and Taylor Street. Click here for flyer information.

I wanted to be among the first users of recycled water in California at one of San Jose's community gardens, so I signed up for a plot. Last week I was notified that I would have to attend two trainings as a requirement of the State Health Department for participation as a gardener using recycled water.

The first two-hour session included an introduction to recycled water and the benefits and safeguards involved with using the recycled water to grow food and flowers in our plots. After being told that a specially designed $80 "key" made of brass pipe and a standard hose bib faucet (which had to remain onsite) would be our personal responsibility, a lengthy discussion ensued concerning the security of the garden facility at night, with strong warnings especially from other gardeners who had prior experience with failed security at other community gardens centers.

This was much better than hearing concern for the safety of the water for growing food. During introductions, I mentioned that I had used water from Coyote Creek to irrigate my home gardens for 20 years. I expressed my own concern for some of the constituents of the creek water that I used may have contained chemicals that I would probably not want in my drinking water, but that the plants responded very well to a water supply that contained some plant nutrients and did not have any chlorine, which tends to inhibit growth of living things in the soil and the plants themselves.

Next week we will get assigned our plots and soon we should all be tending our 16x20 plots and growing beautiful plants for both food and flowers. Hopefully this pilot will lead to more green spaces in our urban core, as we evolve our culture to appreciate the wisdom of reusing water, whether it's greywater in our home or recycled water in the community derived from our highly treated municipal waste(d)water supply which also came from our homes and businesses.

Click here to view an award winning PBS-style video on water recycling in California called
Water in an Endless Loop

1 comment:

Biogas Plant in Kerala said...

I am fully agree with your given article information. I really admire to this nice blog to post this superior post.
Domestic Biogas Plant in Bangalore
Recycling of Waste in Bangalore