The Need for Greywater Standards that Californians Will Follow
Written by Art Ludwig
Tuesday, 24 February 2009 19:48
Dear Greywater Stakeholders:
The greywater regulation revolution was started in 1989 in Santa Barbara, California. It spread from there to four other communities, then the whole state, via the Uniform Plumbing Code, in 1992.
Since then, while California's greywater innovation has been at a standstill, the rest of the west has left us in the dust (Greywater law history).
It is certainly true that "plumbers safeguard the health of the nation," and it is doubtless that building and plumbing codes have saved many, many lives.
However, California's greywater law not making a good example of the positive role codes can/usually do play in civil society.
There are about two million greywater systems in the state of California. One in ten thousand has a permit. There's been no reported cases of greywater-induced illnesses. (References follow below).
Perhaps you've heard the old English saying about "shutting the barn door after the horse is gone."
In California with respect to greywater, it is as if regulations have focused on keeping the barn door shut (pre 1992), and then very tightly regulated (since 1992 only a few hundred permits have been issued in the entire state).
Meanwhile, the barn has never had a back wall (there are two million unpermitted systems in the state; 15% of households), and it turns out that horses do just fine free range (there has not been a single reported case of illness).
Concern about public health is the oft-cited reason for keeping that barn door tight. It seems that concern about liability for is the actual issue. This would explain while no one blinks about the absence of a back wall (not a liability issue), while few regulators dare open the door (could get sued).
The only people dissuaded by the tight control of the front door are building professionals—plumbers, builders, landscapers. It is hard for a homeowner to get help from a licensed professional to make an illegal system. So, they go out the back, and do it themselves.
The current greywater regulation approach hinders best sustainability practices, and undermines respect for codes in general.
Realistic greywater codes of the type adopted in Arizona (2001), New Mexico (2003), Texas (2005) and in process in several other states (NV, OR, MT...) are emblematic of the shift that occurs when the blinders come off and the full risk profile is taken into account in crafting policy.
If California regains its leadership position, the rest of the world is essentially certain to follow.
I look forward to working with you to get the new greywater standards headed towards this goalpost, as envisioned by the sponsors of the enabling legislation.
We've decided to put some resources behind this effort. Here's what we've come up with so far. We'll be adding more, including responses to HCD's and the Greywater Working Groups material.
– Art Ludwig, Oasis Design