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Tuesday, March 19 , 2019, 11:09 pm | A Few Clouds 50º


New State Standards Open Floodgates for Graywater Use

Santa Barbara expert Art Ludwig leads a community workshop on utilizing the wastewater for irrigation and other purposes

The California Building Standards Commission’s new graywater standards took effect Tuesday, thanks in part to the ongoing efforts of Santa Barbara resident and graywater expert Art Ludwig.

On Tuesday, dozens of people crowded into the Faulkner Gallery at the Santa Barbara Public Library to learn about the new standards and participate in a city-sponsored workshop led by Ludwig.

Graywater is the wastewater produced from washing machines, showers and sinks, and its use for irrigation or other purposes has long been an interest of Santa Barbara residents. The city was the first in the country to legalize its use in 1989, and has been working with Ludwig for decades, water conservation coordinator Alison Jordan said to Tuesday’s full house. 

Tuesday, or “California graywater liberation day,” as Ludwig said, was the result of years of work by graywater systems advocates. Ludwig worked with the city of Santa Barbara to attend state meetings, including the Friday’s Building Standards Commission meeting that passed changes to graywater standards.

It is now legal for Californians to install simple laundry and single-fixture systems without a permit. Licensed professionals can install systems for homeowners instead of homeowners attempting to install a system themselves to get around the standards.

Ludwig was one of three people chosen to represent the graywater interest for California in the third stakeholder meeting with state officials, and saw the new standards as inspiring.

“It was a turning point for higher-ups in housing development just to switch from the narrow view to the wider view,” he said.

Previous “narrow views” focused on occupant risks such as fire safety, light and ventilation when considering design, while Ludwig’s wider view takes “the whole picture” of risk into effect. That view considers loss of biodiversity, pollution, groundwater depletion, externalized costs to society and more, and makes graywater reuse a priority.

“What we should do is open the door a crack, instead of having a situation where technology is either not allowed or allowed to everybody,” Ludwig said.

The new standards don’t make graywater systems “open season,” however. As attendee Valerie Watts said, permit holders still have to comply with standards, but at least the door is now open a bit more.

“The general permit is a wonderful tool and can be applied in many places,” she said.

Although the state has adopted new standards, there is no money for integrated design education, Ludwig said. The city of Santa Barbara sponsored Tuesday’s workshop, which stemmed from the city’s relationship with Ludwig. Details of Ludwig’s expertise can be found on his Web site, OasisDesign, and his DVD, called Laundry to Landscape Greywater Systems”.

Many of the workshop attendees had a stake in the new graywater standards; participants included landscapers, contractors, plumbers and building officials, as well as homeowners who had or wanted to install systems.

Benefits of graywater systems include saving money and resources — less fresh water is used, so there’s less strain on a septic tank or local treatment plants, and the water can be reused for irrigation. There’s a lot of potential for use, as graywater accounts for 50 percent to 80 percent of residential wastewater.

The most common (and easiest) systems to install are laundry systems, which usually are made of pipes utilizing the washing machine’s pump to bring used water through a diverter valve out to the yard for irrigation.

Use of a laundry graywater system for a family of four is enough to water four to eight medium-size fruit trees, which amounts to 25 gallons to 40 gallons per week per person, according to the studies.

Ludwig stressed the only principle of graywater system design — that there isn’t a generally applicable principle. “Everything related to graywater has an asterisk attached,” he said. It comes down to goals and context, but a few rules of thumb include keeping it as simple as possible, letting nature do most of the work and making the system durable and maintainable.

Noozhawk staff writer Giana Magnoli can be reached at .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address).

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