Expanding water supplies: Report shows benefits, risks of stormwater and graywater CSU

Here’s the release from Colorado State University (Anne Ju Manning):

There’s a lot of potential benefit to capturing graywater and stormwater to supplement traditional water supplies, but it doesn’t make sense for everyone, and there are plenty of legal, regulatory and climate-related hurdles in doing so, says Colorado State University’s Sybil Sharvelle.

Sharvelle, associate professor of civil and environmental engineering and head of CSU’s Urban Water Center, served on a 12-member national committee charged with addressing the benefits and challenges of stormwater and graywater as supplemental water sources, as the nation faces widespread water shortages and droughts. The National Academies report, released publicly Dec. 16, was two years in the making and provides information on the costs, benefits, risks and regulations associated with capturing these alternative water sources.

According to the report, stormwater is “water from rainfall or snow that can be measured downstream in a pipe, culvert or stream shortly after the precipitation event.” Graywater is “untreated wastewater that does not include water from the toilet or kitchen, and may include water from bathroom sinks, showers, bathtubs, clothes washers and laundry sinks.”

The report recommends best practices and treatment systems for the use of water from these sources; for example, in many locations with heavy rainfall, it’s possible to store excess water in aquifers for use during dry seasons. In some cases, stormwater captured at neighborhood and larger scales can substantially contribute to urban water supplies.

Graywater is best for non-potable uses like toilet flushing and subsurface irrigation. It has potential to help arid places like Los Angeles achieve substantial savings, and it serves as a year-round, reliable water source, according to the report. Larger irrigation systems and indoor reuse systems would require complex plumbing and treatment retrofits that are typically most appropriate for new, multi-residential buildings or neighborhoods for future urban planning.

The report cites the Eloy Detention Center in Arizona, which reuses graywater from showers and hand-washing to flush toilets. The facility has observed water savings of 20 gallons per day per inmate.

Sharvelle said the need for the report arose before the onset of widespread drought in the western United States.

“The use of these resources has been hindered by a lack of national guidance and ambiguous regulations for water quality targets,” Sharvelle said.

Sharvelle led an analysis of residential stormwater and graywater use in Los Angeles; Seattle; Newark; Madison, Wis.; Lincoln, Neb.; and Birmingham, Ala., and calculated potential savings for conservation irrigation and toilet flushing.

The bottom line is there’s no single best way to use these resources, because whether they’re successful or economically viable depend on a host of factors: legal and regulatory constraints, climate, and source water availability.

The report is online, and a webinar is planned for early 2016 to further detail the findings. The study was sponsored by the U.S Environmental Protection Agency, National Science Foundation and other agencies.

CSU’s Urban Water Center is part of the university’s One Water Solutions Institute, which seeks to connect CSU’s world-class research with real-world water challenges.

Colorado Springs Fire Department graywater project will not be used for vegetable production

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From the Colorado Springs Independent (Pam Zubeck):

In August 2013, Fire Station 21 opened with fanfare. The building, at 7320 Dublin Blvd., was billed as the city’s premier eco-project, energy-efficient with a graywater system designed to use treated laundry and shower water for a community garden.

But the garden hasn’t been built, and the Colorado Springs Fire Department has dropped the idea of feeding vegetables with second-hand water. Instead, the station’s used water will irrigate, via drip system, the station’s landscaping, and newly installed fresh-water spigots will provide water for gardens yet to be built.

“After consultation with the director of Pikes Peak [Urban] Gardens, and El Paso County Health Department,” Deputy Fire Chief Ted Collas says in an email, “we concluded that greywater cannot be utilized for consumable agriculture.”[…]

“Firefighters come back and wash up after a fire,” he explains. “They’re dealing with people in accidents. There’s body fluids involved. That would go out in the graywater.”

So where did the misunderstanding come from? Well, project architect Jim Fennell points out that graywater can be used to irrigate gardens if done with an underground drip system. He’s spoken with the county Health Department several times, most recently in mid-November, to confirm as much.

That’s true, Stebbins says, but other places have said “under no circumstances” should it be used on edible crops (although subterranean irrigation of orchards is common). And, Stebbins says, “I think we need to err on the side of caution.”

The website greywateraction.org says water can be reused for gardening, including berry bushes, though it advises, “Greywater should irrigate the roots, not be sprayed or dumped onto the plant itself. Greywater is not safe to drink, and thus should not touch the part of a plant someone would eat.”

Given the differences of opinion, Fire Capt. Steve Oswald says the city opted to “take a conservative approach” — using the graywater on landscape greenery only…

Though the water issue caused talks to stall on a community garden at Station 21, Stebbins says he’s happy to discuss moving forward now and predicts that plots will “fill up in a heartbeat,” given there are 30 people on an urban-garden waiting list in the Old Farm area nearby.

Collas says the city hopes to build planter boxes by spring, and has installed four outdoor spigots, which are metered separately from the building, to allow gardeners to be billed for the water. Meantime, Oswald says the city is working on attaining the LEED label, which will take another 60 to 90 days.

More graywater reclmation coverage here.

2013 Colorado legislation: Governor Hickenlooper signs HB13-1044 (Authorize Graywater Use) #COleg

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From the Northern Colorado Business Report (Steve Lynn):

Rep. Randy Fischer, D-Fort Collins, and Sen. Gail Schwartz, D-Snowmass Village, introduced House Bill 1044. Hickenlooper signed the bill at Colorado State University on Wednesday. The bill directs the Colorado Water Control Commission to create statewide standards for gray water systems. It defines graywater as water coming from bathroom and laundry room sinks, bathtubs, showers and laundry machines. “Graywater does not include the wastewater from toilets, urinals, kitchen sinks, dishwashers or non-laundry utility sinks,” the bill states…

The new law lets cities, towns and counties decide whether to approve graywater use in residential and commercial settings.

More HB13-1044 coverage here. More 2013 Colorado legislation coverage here.

2013 Colorado legislation: Governor Hickenlooper signs HB13-1044 (Authorize Graywater Use) #COleg

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From email from Governor Hickenlooper’s office:

Gov. John Hickenlooper signed 12 bills into law today and yesterday…

HB13-1044, Authorize Graywater Use, Fischer/Schwartz, Concerning the authorization of the use of graywater.

More HB13-1044 coverage here. More 2013 Colorado legislation coverage here.

2013 Colorado legislation: Graywater bill may make it to Governor Hickenlooper’s desk this session

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From the Northern Colorado Business Report (Dallas Heltzell):

Co-sponsored by Rep. Randy Fischer, D-Fort Collins, and Sen. Gail Schwartz, D-Snowmass Village, it now heads to the Senate Appropriations Committee. Lawmakers there will consider a $110,000 appropriation to fund development of gray-water standards by the state Department of Public Health and Environment…

The bill directs the Colorado Water Quality Control Commission to develop minimum statewide standards for gray-water systems and lets cities and towns decide whether to approve them.

Fischer talked with the Business Report about why the bill is needed — and why it failed last year.

Q: What first made you aware that this was an issue in Colorado? Why did you decide to introduce this bill now?

Answer: Dr. Larry Roesner at Colorado State University’s Urban Water Center first contacted me about the need for legislation to authorize use of gray water in late autumn 2010. I was somewhat familiar with gray water systems and their potential to significantly reduce municipal and industrial water consumption. However, I was unaware that Colorado was the only arid western state whose statutes did not recognize or explicitly authorize the installation and operation of gray-water systems. Roesner and his colleague Sybil Sharvelle and I worked to draft legislation and meet with a broad stakeholder group to develop support for legislation. I introduced our bill in December 2011 for consideration during the 2012 legislative session. Regrettably, HB 1003 fell victim to political considerations early in the session. I committed to continuing to work on the bill and reintroduce it in 2013. HB 1044 is the result of literally 2 1/2 years of work on the part of Roesner, Sharvelle and me.

Q: If gray water is safe and beneficial to use, why are gray-water systems illegal in Colorado?

A: Gray water derived from a properly designed and functioning system is safe for indoor use to flush toilets and for outdoor drip irrigation systems. However, current Colorado statutes do not recognize or explicitly authorize its use. The Legislature has likewise never directed the applicable regulatory agency, the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment (CDPHE), to promulgate rules or to set minimum statewide standards for its use. The absence of authorizing legislation, CDPHE rules and statewide standards has created regulatory uncertainty. This uncertainty prevents people from choosing to install gray-water systems because of the risk that their systems could be ruled illegal. When adopted, HB 1044 will direct CDPHE to promulgate rules and standards that will resolve the current regulatory uncertainty.

Q: What do Northern Colorado and the state have to gain by passing your bill, both environmentally and economically?

A: Gray water systems are capable of conserving 25 percent to 30 percent of the indoor water consumed in a typical residence. The water savings from new residential developments using gray water could be substantial and could be a cost-effective tool for helping to meet Colorado’s water needs for the 21st century. In addition, municipal water and wastewater service providers will realize energy and treatment cost savings in the operation of drinking water and wastewater treatment plants.

Q: This is the second time you’ve introduced a bill of this nature. Why did the first one get shot down, and what is different about this bill?

A: Bills dealing with water issues almost always are assigned to the House Agriculture and Natural Resources Committee. However, last year’s gray-water bill was assigned by then-Speaker Frank McNulty to the House State Affairs Committee for its first hearing. Regrettably, the speaker’s choice of the State Affairs Committee to hear the 2012 bill indicated that he was not going to let it advance for purely political reasons. This year, the political environment for water conservations bills such as HB-1044 is greatly improved, and Roesner and I have had an additional year to continue working with stakeholders to build support for the bill.

Q: If passed, what are the next steps to implementing gray-water systems? Do you foresee any other major hurdles?

A: Upon passage of HB 1044, the CDPHE will be required to promulgate rules and minimum statewide standards for installation of systems and use of gray water. The State Plumbing Board also needs to adopt a version of the International Plumbing Code that recognizes gray-water systems and provides guidance for installers. Finally, local governments will have the choice of authorizing the use of gray water within their jurisdictional boundaries. Local jurisdictions will have to adopt ordinances or resolutions authoring the use of gray water in consultation with local health departments and water and wastewater service providers. After passage of the bill, I hope that education, outreach and public acceptance will grow with time such that gray-water systems become a routine part of new residential development and that the potential for water conservation is realized.

More graywater reclamation coverage here and here.

2013 Colorado legislation: HB13-144 (Authorize Graywater Use) passes state Senate Ag committee #COleg

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From KUNC (Nathan Heffel):

[Patti] Mason says water rights concerns, specifically the idea that every drop of rain is already bought and paid for, has kept state lawmakers from loosening their grip over graywater usage, despite the fact that using it would help conserve the precious resource…

Senator Ted Harvey, a Republican from Highlands Ranch, agrees. “The bill is different from the one last year,” Harvey says. “This is very voluntary. It does not require local water providers to regulate it, so it’s not a mandate on water providers.” Harvey, who supports the bill, says water conservation is increasingly on the mind of lawmakers at the State Capitol. “This is not a partisan issue; water is never a partisan issue,” said Harvey…

Patti Mason says the graywater bill has a pretty good chance of passing. But she says it’s just the first step in educating lawmakers about the full potential of graywater use.“I do think that broadening the community’s ability to capture precipitation is next,” said Mason. “There are examples of existing policy in place that has allowed for precipitation harvesting to take place in limited scale. “

The graywater bill easily passed through the House, and was approved unanimously in its first Senate hearing. If the bill is approved by both chambers, it would become law later this year.

More 2013 Colorado legislation coverage here.

2013 Colorado legislation: HB13-144 (Authorize Graywater Use) passes state Senate Ag committee #COleg

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From the Northern Colorado Business Report (Steve Lynn):

The bill, sponsored by Rep. Randy Fischer, D-Fort Collins and Sen. Gail Schwartz, D-Snowmass Village, now heads to the Senate Appropriations Committee. Lawmakers there will consider a $110,000 appropriation to fund development of gray water standards by the state Department of Public Health and Environment.

The measure passed the House Appropriations Committee unanimously earlier this month. “It’s looking pretty positive, I think, in terms of its possibility” of passing the Senate Appropriations Committee, Fischer said. “There’s no opposition to it that I’m aware of.”

Colorado water law allows just one use of water before it goes down the drain, through a wastewater treatment plant and back into the river for others to use. Gray water systems “actually aren’t legal right now,” Fischer said. He pointed out that the University of Colorado at Boulder cannot use a gray water system it installed in a newer residence hall because of state health regulations. “The most important thing the bill does is direct the Colorado Water Quality Control Commission to promulgate minimum statewide standards for gray water systems,” he said.

The bill also lets cities and towns decide whether to approve gray water systems, he said.

More 2013 Colorado legisation coverage here.