The regulation and certification of Graywater Systems in the United States has gone through a significant transformation and evolution since the days of the early pioneers in the American West.
Historically, plumbing codes did not attempt to distinguish between greywater, which can be thought of as all wastewater generated in households or office buildings that does not contain fecal matter such as water from bathroom sinks, showers, baths, washing machines and blackwater which is water from toilets, kitchen sinks and dishwashers. Under this old regime, greywater was required to be collected together with blackwater, and then was directed into the sewer systems. Reuse of graywater, and more generally graywater systems themselves were essentially illegal.
It was not until the early 1900s, with the growing awareness of the potential uses of this water for irrigation purposes, that California became the first state to change their plumbing code to allow lawful recycling of graywater.
Other states such as Arizona followed California’s lead; however, it is interesting that even with this change in the law, graywater was still treated like septic water, as the applicable rules generally required small septic-type systems for disposal of graywater deep underground. As a result, persons who wanted to use graywater systems for irrigation still had to build illegal systems, and it is estimated that at one time, California had about 1.7 million unpermitted systems.
This regulatory quagmire changed in 1998 with Arizona’s adoption of a performance-based code of regulations for graywater systems, which outlines certain health and safety requirements. Residential graywater systems that follow these guidelines became legal – without the need for permits, fees or inspections – so long as the system produced fewer than 400 gallons of graywater per day.
The successful experience of Arizona in establishing a workable framework for the operation of graywater systems set the model for the adoption of similar rules and regulations by other states, including New Mexico, Wyoming and California. The success has also enabled state water departments and environmental health departments, as well as non-governmental organizations, to be able to offer educational programs and financial incentives that encourage safe, lawful graywater recycling and reuse.
Currently, certain states and certain parts of the country still do not have graywater codes, and others states continue to regulate graywater like septic water (e.g. requiring septic disposal systems).
Image from GreywaterAction.org http://greywateraction.org/greywater-codes-and-policy/
Other states restrict the use of graywater systems for certain discrete purposes or subject to water usage limitations, such as West Virginia and Massachusetts (which allow these systems only in houses with a composting toilet) and Washington (allowing only very small systems to be built without a permit, but which follow performance guidelines). And although the trend throughout the country is toward more user-friendly and reasonably permissive rules, persons desiring to utilize Graywater Systems for irrigation and other outdoor or indoor purposes should consult with their state’s environmental health or water departments, in addition to reviewing their state’s plumbing codes.
Along with the emergence of state laws governing graywater reuse have come industry codes that provide recommended operational guidelines for these systems. These standards are often integrated, albeit in a modified form, into state rules and regulations.
The primary code used by states to regulate graywater systems is the Uniform Plumbing Code (UPC), which is a model code developed by the International Association of Plumbing and Mechanical Officials and which, more generally, governs the installation and inspection of plumbing systems as a means of promoting the public’s health, safety and welfare.
The UPC has been developed using the American National Standards Institute’s consensus development procedures, and this process brings together volunteers representing a myriad of viewpoints and interests so as to achieve a consensus on plumbing practices. Conceived for purposes of providing consumers with safe and sanitary plumbing systems, the UPC was also geared toward allowing room for innovation and new technologies.
One such innovative product that has been UPC Certified is the GreenSmart Greywater Diverter, the first and only practical, legally approved, UPC certified greywater diverter for residential use (approved for certification in March 2015). GreenSmart notes that this device can in fact reduce water consumption by up to approximately 25% or more, depending on usage habits. With the push of a button on a remote control useable graywater from bathroom sinks, showers, tubs and clothes washing machines can be diverted to the landscape through a graywater recycling /reuse system.