Gray Water Now Legal in MontanaBy Greg Lambert
The personal and societal commitment to recycling and reuse of our
natural resources are important actions that help to reduce our
footprint upon the Earth. One extremely important resource not
typically mentioned when it comes to recycling and reuse, is water.
The average American uses approximately 80 -100 gallons a day of water
in a variety of residential uses. This is an enormous amount of water,
especially as water becomes ever more precious in arid and semi-arid
regions, such as Montana. In recent years, drought has become a
commonplace occurrence, rivers and reservoirs are at historically low
levels and evermore restrictions are placed on water use. As the
population of Montana grows, it is imperative that we find ways to use
our water resources in a more efficient and thoughtful manner.
During the recent Montana legislative session The S.A.V.E. Foundation
was instrumental in the conception, drafting, and passage of an
important law that will help to conserve precious drinking water in
the state. House Bill 259
passed the legislature with strong
bipartisan support in both houses. This bill made legal the use of
gray water in landscape irrigation and will allow for the use of gray
water in toilets. With the passage of this bill Montana joins twelve
other states in permitting the use of gray water systems.
What exactly then is gray water? Household wastewater has two
components: gray water and black water. Generally, gray water makes up
roughly 50 – 70% of a household's wastewater. Gray water, as it
pertains to Montana law, is generated from a home's showers, bathtubs,
washing machines, dishwashers and bathroom sinks. Black water on the
other hand, is wastewater from toilets, kitchen sinks and washing
machine water that was used to clean soiled diapers. Kitchen sink
water is classified as black water because of the potential for
disease and contamination from the large amount of food waste present
in the water.
In the typical home, these two sources of untreated water are combined
and sent to a wastewater treatment facility. It is not necessary
though from a public health and environmental standpoint, to send all
wastewater to the same centralized treatment facility. Gray water,
when filtered, contains far less potential for causing disease than
does black water, mainly because of minimal amounts of fecal matter.
Moreover, many of the 'pollutants' in gray water, such as potassium
and phosphorous, are actually beneficial to a home's landscaping.
Gray water reuse is already a fairly common practice. Over the past
few decades, many homeowners in drought stricken areas such as
California, Arizona and even Montana constructed simple homemade gray
water systems to keep their landscaping alive in times of water
restrictions. But due to public health concerns many of these systems
were in violation of state and federal laws. However, these laws were
rarely enforced, and the use of these homemade systems continued.
Properly installed gray water systems, when used thoughtfully,
eliminate the health concerns that have been a major roadblock to
widespread approval of such systems throughout the country and they
meet established plumbing code. The law passed in Montana includes two
safeguards for public health. First, gray water is not to be used to
water plants destined for human consumption. Secondly, gray water
systems are not permitted in homes that are located in flood plains.
Also over the next few months the gray water law will go through the
official rule making process. This process will allow for more public
input as the state Department of Environmental Quality defines the
rules for gray water.
A properly installed gray water system consists of three distinct
elements. A proper system needs to be installed and/or approved by a
certified plumber. First, separate drain line needs to dedicated for
all gray water sources to separate it from the black water. Next all
gray water needs to collect in a common line that feeds into a
filtration device. After treatment and filtration the water is pumped
into an irrigation system. This system then will ideally apply the
gray water directly to the soil.
A homeowner looking to install a gray water system needs to consider
many aspects when deciding if the installation of a gray water system
is right for them. It is vitally important to consider the condition
of the home. Retrofitting an existing home for gray water can be quite
expensive. Older houses, especially those with slab foundations,
present a difficult challenge to the installation of a gray water system.
The size of area to be irrigated and the types of plants on the
property should be analyzed. Ideally gray water would be an excellent
green choice for watering trees that shade a home that improve the
home's energy efficiency. Additionally, different plants respond
better to gray water than others. Well-established plants hold up
better in gray water as well as plants that thrive in an acidic soil.
Also, gray water should not be stored and should be used within
twenty-four hours of entering a holding tank. Additionally, laundry
detergents and soaps used in washing machines and showers have the
potential to contaminate soil over the long term. A switch to natural
detergents containing little or no chemicals would be a wise choice.
Gray water reuse is one the many tools we can use to cut down on our
societal thirst for water. It is important to note, that gray water
should not be seen as a replacement for other water conservation
efforts. Actions such as installing low flow faucets and toilets,
purchasing water efficient appliances and planting drought tolerant
plants are all as important as reusing gray water. All in all, the
passage of the gray water law highlights the importance of encouraging
our lawmakers to pass good common sense water conservation laws in
Remember to enter S.A.V.E.'s free raffle with a chance to win a gray
(MT households) that will be given away on Earth Day 2008. To enter the
raffle visit Savemobile.org
. For more information on the gray water
system to be raffled visit bracsystems.com
Greg Lambert is a long time volunteer for the S.A.V.E. Foundation and was a founding board member. Greg has a BA in History and a passion for protecting the environment.
Labels: Daily Habits Summer 2007, gray water systems, grey water