In the News

Water panel approves graywater: City rules currently prohibit conservation measure

Santa Cruz Sentinel, 1/04/11

SANTA CRUZ -- When Golden Love installed his own graywater system, he knew it technically wasn't permitted by the city, but he figured it soon would be.

Because the state began allowing graywater use in January 2010, the owner of Love's Garden and a co-founder of the Central Coast Graywater Alliance began diverting the 40 gallons used by his washing machine each cycle into a system that irrigates the plum, pear and avocado trees on his 2,000-square-foot garden.

There is a city ordinance blocking graywater that officials acknowledge they weren't aware of until recently but are now trying to change in support of conservation.

"The way I thought about it was that the state of California said yes'," Love said.

The city's Water Commission on Monday approved a recommendation to amend code to allow residential graywater systems. City code prohibits the diversion of water from bathtubs, bathroom sinks and washing machines.

The recommendation calls for allowing property owners to install graywater systems for washing machines -- commonly called laundry-to-landscaping -- without a permit as long as they notify the city.

But residents wanting to divert from bathroom sinks, tubs and showers will need a permit -- because plumbing pipes have to be cut -- and pay the county to inspect the system to ensure it meets health and safety codes.

Ecology Action says an average California household "produces more than 10,000 gallons of graywater between May and October." The county already allows graywater in unincorporated areas.

Officials say it's impossible to know how many graywater systems exist, but the city's conservation manager, Toby Goddard said he knows they do.

Since learning about the conflict with city code, Goddard said the city has had to tell property owners such systems aren't yet legal. Officials haven't issued citations, as they would for other code violations that pose public health implications, but they say the intent was not to turn a blind eye.

"I don't think anyone was aware of it," said the city's water manager, Bill Kocher. "The intent is to get something on the books that sets forth standards by which people can be helped to get them installed if they choose."

Mark Dettle, head of the city's Public Works Department, said, "There is probably a fairly limited percentage of people who have made this type of adaptation. There is a group of people that would like to do it and we would like to work with them to do it in a legal and safe way."

The cost of a permit will be determined later by staff, who will present the ordinance change to the Transportation and Public Works Commission on Monday and to the City Council in coming months. Love said a system that stems from a washing machine costs about $1,000 to install, whereas more complex systems from bathtubs and bathroom sinks can cost as high as $3,500.

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