Will Your Health Department Love Greywater as Much as You Do?

As with composting toilets, acceptance of grey – water depends entirely on the folks at your local health department. Some will give you a choice, some won’t. Some may allow greywater systems so long as you also install a full-size approved septic system. Greywater regulation is being ra­tionalized worldwide, often in giant leaps, but some areas still have archaic ideas about this re­source. Since most people don’t bother to get a permit, it is common to find whole populations who are unaware that the greywater reuse they’ve practiced for generations has been made illegal. Also common are regulators in other areas who are unaware that greywater is now permissible in their jurisdiction. Generally, official attitudes are moving toward a more accepting and realistic stance, and authorities will often turn a blind eye toward greywater use.

In the late 1970s, during a drought period, the state of California published a pamphlet that explained the illegality of greywater use, while showing detailed instructions of how to do it! Since then, California has become one of many places where you can install a greywater system legally. The rules are better with each revision, but still only one greywater system in 10,000 has

gone through the permitting process. Happily, there is a new trend toward reasonableness and practicality in greywater regulation. Since 2001, the state of Arizona has allowed the installation of greywater systems of less than 300 gallons a day that meet a list of reasonable requirements with­out having to get a permit. In California, the same is now true for laundry-only systems: no permit required. For up-to-date information, and much more info on presenting a greywater system to your friendly local health department, consult the Builder’s Greywater Guide or the Greywater Policy Center at greywater. net.

Recycling and greywater use may suit you perfectly, but someday you’re likely to sell your perfect house. Will a greywater system suit the next owners as well? It’s the people who will buy the house from you that the health department is thinking about. The best advice is simply to call your health department and ask. But ask as a hypothetical example: “A friend of ours is con­sidering installing a greywater system….” Health officials recognize the “hypothetical” question readily. This allows you to ask specific pointed questions, and them to answer fully and hon­estly, without anyone admitting that any crime or bending of the rules has occurred or is likely to occur. In all cases, be unfailingly nice with your local administrative authority. This strategy pays dividends both locally, system by system, and regionally. Us polite greywater outlaws have been welcomed into the crafting of policies and
codes—in some cases, our suggested wording has been used verbatim.

Updated: June 30, 2015 — 5:47 pm