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California may ease gray-water restrictions

Rules making it easier to install systems that recycle water for garden use could take effect Aug. 4.

July 18, 2009|Susan Carpenter

California may soon adopt more lenient rules allowing residents to recycle water from their clothes washers, showers and other household sources for use in their gardens.

If the state's Building Standards Commission approves the new code, as expected, certain types of residential gray-water systems could be installed or altered without a construction permit starting Aug. 4. That's a reversal of present requirements, which stipulate that homeowners who install systems recycling sink, shower, bathtub and laundry wastewater not only get permits from the appropriate administrative authority but also install the systems underground with extensive filtering apparatus.

Last summer, Senate Bill 1258 passed requiring the state's Department of Housing and Community Development to revise the code "to conserve water by facilitating greater reuse of gray water in California." The code's revision was scheduled to take effect Jan. 1, 2011, but because of the state's continuing drought, the new code was submitted for emergency adoption.

Complex systems that discharge more than 250 gallons per day may still require construction permits. But the new gray-water standards do apply to lower-volume residential systems, including ones that recycle water from a single washing machine in a one- or two-family dwelling, and ones that recycle water from a single plumbing fixture or drain, also in a one- or two-family home.

Homeowners must follow 12 guidelines but do not need permits. Among the guidelines:

The installation cannot affect other plumbing, electrical or mechanical components including structural features, sanitation or potable water supply.

The gray water must be contained on the site where it is generated.

If gray water is released above ground, there must be at least 2 inches of mulch, rock, or soil (or a solid shield) covering the release point.

Systems must minimize contact with humans and pets.

Water used to wash diapers or similarly soiled or infectious garments cannot be used.

Water cannot contain hazardous chemicals derived from cleaning car parts, washing greasy rags, disposing solutions from home photo labs or similar activities.

For more information on the revised code and to read all 12 guidelines, go to and type in "gray water standards" in the search field.


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