Tucson’s ‘Greywater’ Plan Not Paying Off | Subscribers

Few Tucson people reuse household water to irrigate their landscapes, a sign that Tucson’s 12-year-old “grey water” ordinance has failed to help protect the area’s dwindling resources.

Grey water, or any used water that is not contaminated with feces, comes from appliances such as kitchen sinks or showers. If captured to the sewer using a grey water system, it can be reused outdoors, saving the average household more than 30,000 gallons of water per year.

Tucson gained national attention for encouraging its use through a 2010 policy that required all new homes to have a special “short pipe” — or tee pipe, to easily install greywater without additional plumbing work systems – and provide residents with the equipment they need for $1,000.

But a recent city survey of residents whose homes were subject to the policy showed the initiative had little impact on the community.

For example, only 28 of the nearly 500 Tucsons surveyed said they used reclaimed water, and less than 1 percent took advantage of the $1,000 rebate. About a third of people had not even heard of greywater before taking part in the study.

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“I was there when this special ordinance was discussed, proposed and passed, and I was a little disappointed that we didn’t have more success with it,” Mayor Regina Romero said. Said she was a member of the city council when the policy was made. was accepted. “I want to make sure we’re exploring any downsides that might not allow the program to develop.”

City workers say they feel the ordinance has failed, but the latest investigation marks the first time Tucson’s greywater policy has come under scrutiny since it was passed 12 years ago.

It’s one of several studies over the past six months that have exposed major flaws in Tucson’s water policy: A recently published review of another 2010 ordinance shows that the city has failed to enforce the policy for years.

Because the greywater ordinance is an incentive, not a requirement for homeowners, city staff say its failure is the result of Tucson people not knowing the policy exists — despite being in place for more than a decade.

“One of the barriers to the success of the ordinance for us is the lack of awareness and information about greywater – their home’s capabilities and resources, rebates, workshops, etc. – it is very obvious to us – we can provide They deliver,” said James McAdam, administrator of Tucson Water.

A grey water system pipe brings water from the shower into the backyard to water a bamboo tree in Chris Wendell’s Tucson home.

Mamta Popat, Arizona Daily Star

MacAdam’s plan to fix the problem has not yet been fully materialized, but he said it would include advertising more than 6,000 homes built after 2010 to let owners know that their homes have greywater plumbing and that they can receive cash to install the system.

Tucson may also work with home builders to publicize and address some of the other technical issues in the ordinance, such as the difficulty of using greywater plumbing on some properties.

For example, the policy doesn’t dictate where home builders should install greywater outlets, so if it’s placed away from the landscape or underground — where residents need a pump to use it — Tucsonians are less likely to encounter to use the system.

“Ideally, it’s set up for gravity feed. For example, when you’re doing dishes, you can switch the water to a regular sewage system or a grey water system so it can go outside your house, where you can put the It’s applied to plants,” said MP Kevin Dahl. “I think it’s important that we try to get people to do that because 30 percent of our drinking water goes directly to landscape use. If we can use it in our homes or businesses, that’s a win.”

Homes built after 2010 alone could save more than 60 million gallons of potable water annually if MacAdam convinces one-third of Tucson homeowners with greywater plumbing to start using it.

Owners of older homes can also take advantage of this policy. Any home connected to Tucson Water can get a $1,000 rebate for installing its own equipment, so the city’s rollout, if successful, could have wider water-saving impacts.

It could also be an easy selling point for Tucsonians looking to save money. Residents like Cyndi Tuell who are already collecting grey water say the practice has cut their monthly water bills and made landscaping more affordable.

The grey water system in Chris Wendell’s home waters a wall of vines.

Mamta Popat, Arizona Daily Star

“We moved into a house that didn’t have any vegetation in the yard, so all our plants needed to be established, which was a huge water usage and expense that we needed to consider,” lives in a century-old home and didn’t know about the greywater rebate, so she established has a homemade system that collects water from her washing machine. “When we realized how easy it was to use a washing machine, we could water almost everything in the yard without using any fresh water.”

Chris Wendel, a downtown resident and epidemiologist at the University of Arizona, agrees with Tuell on affordability.

The only economic downside, he says, is the cost of the special plant-safe laundry detergent, which is about 50 percent more expensive than typical laundry detergents, although he adds that even in his 1940s home, the grey water plumbing was low — cost.

“Literally, what (plumbers) do is so cheap. We’re just talking about cutting and installing a three-way valve and laying a little bit of pipe at the logical outflow location,” Wendel said. “(The system) supports plants we might try to grow anyway, but they are really healthy, including two bamboo plants, which would cost a lot to water with pure city water.”

The greywater system in Chris Wendel’s home includes a pipe that directs water from the washing machine to the backyard to water several vines.

Mamta Popat, Arizona Daily Star

City officials acknowledge that while the policy could potentially save a lot of water, the grey water ordinance is only a small part of the conservation efforts that will need to be done in the years ahead.

Still, they say it’s an important step toward more ambitious goals, such as becoming a carbon-neutral city by 2030, and addressing the dwindling supply of freshwater to the Colorado River.

“We need to do everything we can to tackle climate change because there is no silver bullet and there is no silver bullet,” said Dahl, whose campaign has centered on climate initiatives. “(Greywater regulations) are literally and figuratively a drop in the ocean, but we need to fill our buckets with a lot of drops.”

City staff will update council members within the next year on grey water ordinances. Depending on progress, officials may revise regulations or adopt new tactics to help revive failed policies.

Reporter Sam Kmack reports on the local government. Contact him at skmack@tucson.com.

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