State considers allowing 'gray water' in homes

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PORTLAND, Ore. (AP) - Oregon's State plumbing board meets this month to discuss rules permitting reuse of "gray water" inside homes to avoid having to flush drinking water down the toilet.

Oregon building codes allow homeowners to collect and reuse rainwater for inside uses such as flushing toilets. But codes are murky when it comes to recycling gray water used in sinks, showers or clothes washers for the same purpose.

On June 20 the state Building Codes Division will propose new rules to the Oregon State Plumbing Board that would allow homeowners to install systems that reuse gray water in that way.

The new rules are intended to ease concerns among conservationists and policy makers when it comes to using treated drinking water to flush toilets.

"Dealing with building code barriers is a huge challenge to (water) conservation," Tom Osdoba, economic development manager for the Portland Office of Sustainability, said. "We have to figure out how to get out of the way of innovation."

Only Arizona and New Mexico have standards for such gray water reuse.

Gray water is classified as water that is unsuitable for drinking and may contain microbes or harmful chemicals.

"Personally, I don't like flushing toilets with Bull Run water," Jonathan Gray of Interface Engineering, said. "But as a plumber, people expect the plumbing system to be sanitary and not detrimental to their health. So there are some issues we need to work out."

Standard reuse systems contain their own filtering and treatment systems, and further measures can ensure public health standards are maintained.

Plumbers could color-code gray-water pipes to distinguish them from the drinking water system, said Ron Murray, a lobbyist with Plumbers and Steamfitters Local 290.

The fix is fairly simple, but it must be mandated and incorporated into licensing and training, he said.

"The big concern about non-potable water sources is an untrained person would cut a T into a non-potable line and make people sick," Murray said. "That' called a cross connection, and we take that very seriously."

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The agency also needs clearance to determine the level of treatment required on household water before it can be used on the lawn, Mark Long, director of the state Building Codes Division, said, but said that could be done with few regulatory changes.

To allow reuse systems in commercial buildings, however, the division will need to go to the Legislature.

The uniform plumbing code, which serves as the basis for state building codes, has standards for reuse of gray water. But gray water is regulated by the Department of Environmental Quality, so the Legislature must grant BCD jurisdiction before the agency can change the commercial code.

If the BCD proposal succeeds in the Legislature, Oregon would join Arizona and New Mexico as the only states with standards for reuse of gray water.

If approved, homeowners in Oregon could install systems for reuse of gray water as early as July, Long said.

"We're not mandating homeowners to do it," said Long. "But if a homeowner wants to do something to help the environment and if they're using tried and true methods, they should be able to do it."

Copyright 2008 The Associated Press. The information contained in the AP news report may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or otherwise distributed without the prior written authority of The Associated Press. Active hyperlinks have been inserted by AOL.

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