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Greywater systems: How they can help us conserve water

grey water systems
Posted at 9:30 AM, Feb 24, 2023

FORT COLLINS, Colo. — More than 2.2 million people in the United States are without running water and basic indoor plumbing. Water scarcity and drought issues are colossal undertakings. However, the mayor of Fort Collins, Colorado, believes there's a way water can be used twice.

"We are becoming fundamentally drier. So how are we going to take an actually shrinking resource in an expanding population and still serve people well?" Jeni Arndt said. "When we save water from not being up to today's potability standards, we're really saving energy that it takes to refine that water."

Last summer, Fort Collins began allowing greywater systems to be installed in new buildings.

"It's really for new buildings if someone wants to develop a housing development or build a new home, then can plumb from their shower to their toilet and then out," Arndt said.

A greywater system captures gently used water from bathtubs, showers and washing machines. The water is essentially filtered and then used in toilets. This gives the water a second life, instead of going straight into a sewer system. Greywater can also be used for landscaping and gardening in places with proper regulations.

"We're not allowing outdoor use of grey water because what we're really trying to do is keep the consumptive part of water intact. If you put it out on your landscaping, it could evaporate and then you could have consumptive loss," Arndt said.

Gary Wockner, director of the nonprofit Save the Colorado, advocates for the preservation of the Colorado River. He says Implementing greywater systems can happen anywhere, but he cautions that there are limitations.

"The number of times you can use water repeatedly actually depends on water rights and water law," Wockner said.

"And let me tell you, there are very strict controls on these types of things because we really don't want water-born illness," Arndt said.

While water scarcity is a global issue, experts say each community has a set of unique challenges.

"Think about what's right for your community, what your goals and your values are, and then how you can pitch in to make that a reality," Arndt said.

Regardless of where you are, implementing greywater systems as Fort Collins has done, can take some pressure off of the over-reliance on freshwater resources.

"When there's a real need, humans will respond and I'm an optimist and I think we can really take care of our water short future," Arndt said.

Greywater systems are permitted in states like Arizona, California, New Mexico and Texas. Every location has different rules and regulations, so it's best to check with your jurisdiction for more information.

The cost of a greywater system varies by location. A simple, low-tech system can be built professionally for $1,000-$2,000.