Jax and I live in Texas which you might have heard is in a drought. We’ve written about the consequences of drought for our state before. Our neighbors north of Texas are in a worse state than we are in this drought with most of Colorado and Kansas experiencing extreme drought conditions. As populations grow (as they tend to do in the US) policy makers are faced with inviting or designing initiatives that will alleviate an increased demand on local resources, including water.

…La Niña conditions, which bring hot, dry springs and summers to Texas…will continue for a second year through 2012. [H]alf of two-year La Niñas have been followed by a third year. However, Texas has not been in a drought of three years or longer since the 1960s.” — Farzad Mashhood, Austin American Statesman

Today, I’d like to talk about an initiative that can help us cope with drought conditions — the use of greywater (also spelled graywater). Greywater is generated in households and includes residual water from baths, showers, and washing machines. It gets its name from being cloudy (it usually contains soap) and because its state is somewhere between clean drinking water (called “white water”) — the water piped into our homes — and sewage or waste water (called “black water”) — the water piped out of our homes.

According to the Texas Water Development Board’s 2012 plan, conservation is our best and cheapest source of water for the future.” — Fritz Steiner, Austin American Statesman

Greywater is not potable (not drinkable), so it usually ends up in a sewer with waste water. But that doesn’t have to be the case. With proper treatment, greywater can supplement irrigation, laundry and toilet water. If we used greywater, we could significantly reduce our reliance on “white water” because most homes generate enough greywater to supplant a good portion of water provided by the city.

“An average household can divert at least 40 gallons per day, or 15 percent of daily usage, by using a gray water system, according to the City of Austin.” — Asher Price, Austin American Statesman

Greywater Program Map (click to enlarge). Warning: Nudity and hairy legs.

Recycling greywater is one of several water conservation strategies being explored by national organizations. [The other strategies include the harvesting of rainwater and stormwater and restricting water use.] For example, the Sustainable Site Initiative is piloting greywater use in Arizona, California, Georgia, and North Carolina. I came across this project because one of the partners is a local gem, the Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center at the University of Texas at Austin. Some may think Texas is too red to be green. Let me assure you that is not the case. Our state has had policies on reclaimed water in place since the late 1990s and policies on greywater since 2005. So it made perfect sense to me when I saw one of our state treasures associated with a national conservation effort.

Even though Austin is near several bodies of water, we are facing water shortages just like many other cities. Austin considers itself a green city, so when I started researching for this post, I thought I’d learn about how water conservation strategies, like greywater, are popular features in new homes and developments. They are not. Indeed, only one person in our city has ever been granted a permit to recycle greywater for her home. One person! Part of the reason for low implementation may be the bureaucracy a homeowner has to navigate to the get a permit.

Another part of it, though, may be cost. Greywater is supposed to be treated before it is reclaimed and this cost may shut out the “little guy.” A study published earlier this year found it may be cost-prohibitive for single-family homes, with the cost of water conservation (including greywater) being more than three times that of standard practice (see pp. 68-69). In contrast, the one person in Austin who got a permit for reclaiming greywater said the upfront cost was low. I’m not sure what to think. And as far as I can tell, my city isn’t sure what to think, either.

I think greywater holds a lot of promise for my city becoming more green. The City of Austin has formed a task force to figure out how, when and where reclaiming greywater can help alleviate strains on our water resources. That makes me glad. Pagan or not, I know my friends and I want to live clean and healthy lives using sustainable practices.

What about you Realm? Does your state or city have policies in place regarding water conservation in general, or greywater in particular? Have you ever thought about trying to recycle water?



+ Featured image, a greywater pump from the Earthship Museum in Taos, NM.