Policy recommendations for Montana

GRAY WATER POLICY PROPOSAL


Developed by: Ana Pedersen, Cleo Woelfe-Erskine, and Jennifer Hill-Hart1
University of Montana-Environmental Studies Program
December 10, 2007

Introduction

Water is a precious resource in Montana. Sixteen Montana counties were designated as under “severe drought” conditions in 2007.2 With repeated drought emergency in Montana, homeowners, renters, ranchers, industrial users, and policymakers are all looking for ways to use water more efficiently. As Governor Brian Schweitzer noted last summer, “We’re getting less snow, it’s melting sooner, we’re getting more fires that are destroying this filtration system, and the future [of our water supply] doesn’t look bright unless we can arrest this climate change.”3 In our semi-arid state, gray water reuse is one strategy that can protect our rivers and help us adapt to climate change. Gray water reuse can cut a family’s water bill by one third; reduce septic tank groundwater pollution; protect aquifers; and direct nutrients to the soil where they become plant nutrients rather than water pollutants.

The 2007 Montana Legislature passed HB 259, which allows single-family residences to reuse gray water, and legalized all systems installed before the legislation went into effect on October 1, 2007. This legislation gives Montana a strong framework for drafting proactive and user-friendly gray water rules.

In preparing these recommendations, we spoke with Missoula architects, plumbers, contractors, landscapers, and county officials, as well as out-of-state policymakers and gray water professionals. The purpose of this document is to analyze other state’s gray water rules and implementation successes in order to help craft the best gray water policy for Montana. We encourage the Montana Department of Environmental Quality to create new gray water rules based upon the standards outlined in this document in order to strengthen an already strong law.

What is Gray Water?

Gray water is water from sinks, showers, and washing machines. According to the MCA 75-5-325, “gray water” refers to the “wastewater that is collected separately from a sewage flow and that does not contain industrial chemicals, hazardous wastes, or wastewater from toilets”; a gray water reuse system refers to a “plumbing system for a private, single-family residence that collects gray water”.
Gray Water Merits
Residential gray water recycling systems divert sink, shower, and laundry flows before they mix with toilet (“black”) water. Gray water diverted from sewer or septic systems is used to water plants, or in some cases to flush toilets. In rural areas, gray water reuse often predates septic systems and gray water reuse is the default for most households worldwide where sewer infrastructure is absent. Systems range in complexity from hand-carrying dishwater outside to garden plants, to hard-plumbing sinks or showers to outside trees. In rural areas, these “drain out back” systems are often fairly casual. Nonetheless, there has never been a documented case of gray-water related illness anywhere in the U.S.

In the post-industrial world, sewage treatment plants or septic leachfields carry human waste and household gray water out of sight and out of mind. But as older cities reach the limits of their water supplies, and extended regional drought undermines old paradigms of water use in the West, many citizens—and some municipalities—see household gray water reuse as surprising common sense. Gray water recycling is increasingly augmenting traditional water conservation in U.S. cities, particularly in the West.

A 2003 Pacific Institute study showed that existing water conserving technology could reduce urban water use (including residential, commercial, and industrial sectors) by 34 percent; although urban use accounts for only 20 percent of water use California, conservation measures alone could eliminate that state’s need for new urban water supplies for the next three decades.4 Simple gray water recycling systems, which often cost less than a low-flush toilet, can reduce household water consumption by one third, by using the same water that is used for bathing and washing to water the lawn, trees or ornamental plants.5

In fast-growing semi-arid regions such as Montana, a wide range of water-conservation strategies will be essential if development is to remain in balance with local water supplies. Given the finite nature of groundwater resources, and the high economic and environmental costs of developing new dams, counties and municipalities in California and the southwest have begun to offer substantial incentives for water conservation measures ranging from low-flow or dual flush toilets, to drought-efficient landscaping. Tucson, Arizona, Albuquerque, New Mexico, and Malibu, California actively encourage gray water recycling via publications, technical assistance, and low-cost, hassle-free permitting.6

Gray water treatment via wetlands can produce high-quality effluent suitable for vegetable crop irrigation, ornamental plant use, and aquifer recharge, and can enable safe gray water reuse within floodplains and high water table areas.7 Wetland systems are particularly attractive in cold climates since they can continue to treat gray water during the winter months.

Policy Successes Elsewhere

Legal and regulatory framework
Arizona based its gray water rules on best practices gleaned from a survey of existing systems, and set performance standards rather mandating design criteria. This approach creates a favorable climate for innovation and has been successful in terms of total systems installed and water quality protection. Texas’ 2003 law, New Mexico’s 2003 code update, and Montana’s 2007 law were all modeled on Arizona’s statutes. We encourage the DEQ to adopt Arizona’s gray water regulatory model and expand certain provisions in response to cold climate constraints.8 (Please refer to the Appendix for information on the gray water statutes for the above listed states).
Until recently, many states followed California’s lead when adopting gray water policy. Unfortunately, California’s code mandates systems that are overly costly and complicated. As a result, few gray water permits have been issued in California, although un-permitted systems have proliferated. We believe that Arizona’s legal and regulatory framework provides the model for Montana.
Arizona’s gray water code promotes conservation and protects public health
Arizona’s success in promoting gray water recycling arises from common-sense performance standards, an optional free permit and inspection, and statewide technical assistance. Arizona takes a three-tiered approach to gray water systems under the authority of the Arizona Department of Environmental Quality. The first tier of the Arizona gray water law applies to residential systems that produce less than 400 gallons of gray water per day. The second and third tiers of the Arizona rules regulate multi-family and commercial gray water systems.

First tier: Systems handling less than 400 gallons per day that meet established requirements do not need a permit (should apply to most single family homes) (7 A.A.R. R18-9-711). (See Appendix for requirements)

Second tier: Systems handling more than 400 gallons per day (reclaimed water, drywells, mining water…etc), or that don’t meet the first tier requirements, as well as commercial, multi-family, and institutional systems. They require a standard permit.

Third tier: Systems handling more than 3500 gallons per day (need permit to discharge; need notice of intent to discharge and renew every 5 years); regulators consider each of them on an individual basis.

Regulate and monitor gray water systems

Since Montana’s current legislation only applies to single-family homes, Montana’s gray water rules can substantially follow the Arizona regulations for first-tier systems, with several modifications elaborated in the following recommendations. We also encourage the DEQ to initiate rulemaking processes for multi-family and commercial gray water standards following Arizona’s tiered approach.
Allow residential-strength gray water systems under the current law
Businesses such as banks and offices that produce less that 400 gallons per day of “residential-strength” gray water from bathroom fixtures can thus be subject to the same permitting requirements as residential systems. Gray water systems in public buildings can serve as powerful educational tools in water conservation.
Blanket permit standards save public money and promote legal use of gray water

It is in Montana’s best interest to adopt a blanket permit standard. Arizona’s blanket permit standard covers all gray water systems that adhere to statutory rules under the same permit9. Residents do not have to file paperwork or notify any sort of regulatory authority. Arizona offers a free optional permit and inspection. This hassle-free procedure encourages legal use of gray water.

The Power of Proper Regulation

Follow established best practices
Performance standards promote innovation and allow for regionally-appropriate designs.
Arizona’s performance-based approach makes sense in a state as geographically and climactically diverse as Montana. We suggest permitting the following established best practices:
1. Gray water professionals recommend applying gray water close to the soil, since most biological activity, and therefore treatment of gray water (removal of bacteria and plant uptake) occurs in the top 10” of the soil.10 Such a standard conforms to Chapter 50 of the environmental quality administrative rules of Montana under solid waste management: “Gray water may be land-applied at approved sites without vector or pathogen reduction only if it will not pollute state waters”.
2. Presence of high seasonal groundwater can be determined by digging a 5’ deep test hole when groundwater is expected to be highest. Rules should allow for gray water systems in high seasonal groundwater areas if:
(1) Gray water is treated to applicable standards, or
(2) Gray water can be diverted to the sewer when high groundwater creates potential water quality risks
Gray water treatment systems reduce groundwater pollution compared to septic systems
In areas of seasonal high groundwater or where high nutrient levels in groundwater are of concern, set performance standards for nitrogen, phosphorous, and bacteria and allow installation of wetland, soil bed, or other treatment systems that treat effluent to these standards.
Maximize allowable gray water sources
In the 2003 gray water law revision, New Mexico considers kitchen sink water gray water that needs pre-filtration; planned revisions to the Arizona code will allow kitchen sink water reuse. Montana rules can provide options for reuse of properly treated kitchen sink water for irrigation following best practices mentioned above.
Develop incentives for water conservation and gray water reuse.
Though outside the scope of this report, water conserving fixtures and landscaping increase the effectiveness of gray water systems. Developing rebate and incentive programs for low-flush toilets, faucet aerators, drip irrigation systems, and xeriscaping can result in up to 1/3 reduction in urban water use. Further savings can be achieved through industrial water recycling, and by changing the Montana Plumbing Code to require that gray water and black water be plumbed separately in all new residential development. Dual plumbing does not increase construction costs and facilitates subsequent gray water system installation.

The Power of Information

Educate decision-makers about conservation opportunities.

Taking a proactive approach to educating state and county decision-maker about the new gray water rules will discourage confusion among regulators, political leaders, and the public. We encourage the DEQ or another state agency to develop an informational brochure or letter explaining what is permissible under the new gray water rules and planning workshops for county health officials and regulators to develop the most effective implementation strategies.
Inform citizens about the economic and ecological benefits of gray water reuse
We also encourage DEQ or another state agency to develop an informational brochure for citizens, architects, and contractors. This brochure would define gray water and illustrates a range of gray water system designs, as well as proper discharge application in single-family homes (see appendix for an example brochure). WaterCASA, a Maricopa County, Arizona, agency, hosts regular workshops on gray water recycling and rainwater harvesting; this outreach has increased gray water system installation and improved the performance of resident-installed systems.

The Power of Research and Innovation

Research can identify new solutions to water quality and supply problems
A recent MSU study in cold-climate wastewater treatment and the Missoula Wastewater Treatment Plant pilot project using poplars for tertiary sewage treatment show that Montana is innovating new water recycling strategies and technologies. Current research opportunities include evaluating package and custom-built gray water systems handling a variety of gray water flows and concentrations, and monitoring gray water treatment systems under real-life conditions. Future rulemaking should be based on the best available data.
Montana can innovate cold-climate gray water treatment strategies
Gray water treatment wetlands can allow for cold-weather gray water reuse. Systems based on designs for the Northeastern U.S. can further develop these systems for Montana. Montana’s gray water rules should allow flexibility in siting surge tanks and subsurface flow wetlands in order to allow gray water system installations in a variety of site conditions.

Summary of recommendations

We believe that the gray water rules as enforced by the state of Arizona offer a strong example for Montana to emulate and improve upon. Arizona’s rules successfully protect human health and the environment by allowing for optimum absorption of gray water and its nutrients, and by minimizing human contact with gray water.

We also believe that constructed wetlands should be assessed for use in Montana gray water systems, and as an alternative to septic leach fields in areas where septic systems pollute ground and surface water. Constructed wetlands are increasingly used in sludge removal and secondary and tertiary municipal wastewater treatment. We have enclosed design specifications and background information on constructed wetland systems for your reference.

Now that Montana has the regulatory authority to permit gray water systems, the DEQ can develop rules that encourage gray water reuse and facilitate permitting and implementation. Please consider adopting gray water rules based upon the following adapted from the Arizona gray water rules:

Regulate by performance standards, not design standards, to encourage citizen gray water reuse and innovation
Offer a blanket permit for residences, modeled after Arizona, also allowing for the option of free permitting and inspection
Develop rules for multi-family and commercial gray water systems
Offer guidelines for kitchen wastewater reuse

Thank you for providing the gray water regulatory guidance for the citizens of Montana. We encourage you to strongly consider the regulation suggestions outlined in this document. We are all available for comment and to provide you with whatever resources we can to support a strong gray water law.

APPENDIX


1. Guidelines for Gray Water Regulation
Arizona’s performance standards mandate the following:
Summary of Arizona statute 7 A.A.R. R18-9-711
See below for full text of statute:
1. Human contact with gray water and soil irrigated by gray water is avoided;
2. Gray water originating from the residence is used and contained within the property boundary for household gardening, composting, lawn watering, or landscape irrigation;
3. Surface application of gray water is not used for irrigation of food plants, except for citrus and nut trees;
4. The gray water does not contain hazardous chemicals derived from activities such as cleaning car parts, washing greasy or oily rags, or disposing of waste solutions from home photo labs or similar hobbyist or home occupational activities;
5. The application of gray water is managed to minimize standing water on the surface;
6. The gray water system is constructed so that if blockage, plugging, or backup of the system occurs, gray water can be directed into the sewage collection system or onsite wastewater treatment and disposal system, as applicable. The gray water system may include a means of filtration to reduce plugging and extend system lifetime;
7. Any gray water storage tank is covered to restrict access and to eliminate habitat for mosquitoes or other vectors;
8. The gray water system is sited outside of a floodway;
9. The gray water system is operated to maintain a minimum vertical separation distance of at least five feet from the point of gray water application to the top of the seasonally high groundwater table, and a 5 foot deep test hole is sufficient to determine the presence of a seasonally high groundwater table;
10. For residences using an onsite wastewater treatment facility for black water treatment and disposal, the use of a gray water system does not change the design, capacity, or reserve area requirements for the onsite wastewater treatment facility at the residence, and ensures that the facility can handle the combined black water and gray water flow if the gray water system fails or is not fully used;
11. Any pressure piping used in a gray water system that may be susceptible to cross connection with a potable water system clearly indicates that the piping does not carry potable water;
12. Gray water applied by surface irrigation does not contain water used to wash diapers or similarly soiled or infectious garments unless the gray water is disinfected before irrigation; and
13. Surface irrigation by gray water is only by flood or drip irrigation.
2. Arizona’s Gray Water Statutes
R18-9-708. Reusing Reclaimed Water Under a General Permit
A. Type 1 Reclaimed Water General Permit. A person may directly reuse reclaimed water without notice to the Department if:
1. The direct reuse is specifically authorized by and meets the requirements of this Article, and
2. Complies with the requirements of the Type 1 Reclaimed Water General Permit under R18-9-711.
B. Type 2 Reclaimed Water General Permit.
1. A person may directly reuse reclaimed water under a Type 2 Reclaimed Water General Permit if:
a. The direct reuse is authorized by and meets the requirements of this Article;
b. The direct reuse meets all the conditions of the applicable Type 2 Reclaimed Water General Permit under R18-9-712 through R18-9-716;
c. The person files a Notice of Intent for Direct Reuse of Reclaimed Water under subsection (B)(2); and
d. The person submits the applicable fee established in 18 A.A.C. 14.
2. Notice of Intent for Direct Reuse of Reclaimed Water.
a. A person shall submit, by certified mail, in person, or by another method approved by the Department, the Notice of Intent for Direct Reuse of Reclaimed Water on a form provided by the Department.
b. The Notice of Intent for Direct Reuse of Reclaimed Water shall include;
i. The name, address, and telephone number of the applicant;
ii. The social security number of the applicant, if the applicant is an individual;
iii. The name, address, and telephone number of the contact person;
iv. The source, volume, and class of reclaimed water to be directly reused;
v. A legal description of the direct reuse site, including latitude and longitude coordinates;
vi. The description of the direct reuse activity, including a description of acreage and the type of vegetation to be irrigated, if applicable to the type of direct reuse activity; and
vii. The permittee's signature certifying that the permittee agrees to comply with all requirements of this Article, including specific terms of the applicable Reclaimed Water General Permit.
C. Type 3 Reclaimed Water General Permit. A person may operate under a Type 3 Reclaimed Water General Permit after filing an applicable Notice of Intent to Operate with the Department and receiving a written Verification of General Permit Conformance for the operation.
1. Application submittal. The applicant shall submit, either by certified mail, in person at the Department, or by another method approved by the Department:
a. The Notice of Intent to Operate on a form provided by the Department containing the information specified in the applicable Type 3 Reclaimed Water General Permit under R18-9-717(B), R18-9-718(C), or R18-9-719(B), and
b. The applicable fee established in 18 A.A.C. 14.
2. Verification issuance. If, after reviewing the Notice of Intent to Operate, the Department determines that the direct reuse conforms with the conditions of a Type 3 Reclaimed Water General Permit and all other applicable requirements of this Article, the Department shall issue the Verification of General Permit Conformance.
3. Verification denial.
a. If the Department determines on the basis of its review or an inspection that the direct reuse does not conform to the conditions of the applicable Type 3 Reclaimed Water General Permit or other applicable requirements of this Article, the Department shall notify the applicant of its decision not to issue the Verification of General Permit Conformance.
b. If an application is denied, the applicant shall not operate under a Type 3 Reclaimed Water General Permit.
c. The applicant may appeal the decision not to issue a Verification of General Permit Conformance under A.R.S. §§ 41-1092 through 41-1092.12.
4. Automatic issuance. If the Department does not issue the Verification of General Permit Conformance within the time-frame specified under 18 A.A.C. 1, Article 5, and does not notify the applicant that it will not issue the verification, the verification automatically becomes effective upon expiration of the overall time-frame.
Historical Note
New Section adopted by final rulemaking at 7 A.A.R. 758, effective January 16, 2001 (Supp. 01-1).

R18-9-711. Type 1 Reclaimed Water General Permit for Gray Water
A. A Type 1 Reclaimed Water General Permit allows private residential direct reuse of gray water for a flow of less than 400 gallons per day if all the following conditions are met:
1. Human contact with gray water and soil irrigated by gray water is avoided;
2. Gray water originating from the residence is used and contained within the property boundary for household gardening, composting, lawn watering, or landscape irrigation;
3. Surface application of gray water is not used for irrigation of food plants, except for citrus and nut trees;
4. The gray water does not contain hazardous chemicals derived from activities such as cleaning car parts, washing greasy or oily rags, or disposing of waste solutions from home photo labs or similar hobbyist or home occupational activities;
5. The application of gray water is managed to minimize standing water on the surface;
6. The gray water system is constructed so that if blockage, plugging, or backup of the system occurs, gray water can be directed into the sewage collection system or on-site wastewater treatment and disposal system, as applicable. The gray water system may include a means of filtration to reduce plugging and extend system lifetime;
7. Any gray water storage tank is covered to restrict access and to eliminate habitat for mosquitoes or other vectors;
8. The gray water system is sited outside of a floodway;
9. The gray water system is operated to maintain a minimum vertical separation distance of at least five feet from the point of gray water application to the top of the seasonally high groundwater table;
10. For residences using an on-site wastewater treatment facility for black water treatment and disposal, the use of a gray water system does not change the design, capacity, or reserve area requirements for the on-site wastewater treatment facility at the residence, and ensures that the facility can handle the combined black water and gray water flow if the gray water system fails or is not fully used;
11. Any pressure piping used in a gray water system that may be susceptible to cross connection with a potable water system clearly indicates that the piping does not carry potable water;
12. Gray water applied by surface irrigation does not contain water used to wash diapers or similarly soiled or infectious garments unless the gray water is disinfected before irrigation; and
13. Surface irrigation by gray water is only by flood or drip irrigation.
B. Prohibitions. The following are prohibited:
1. Gray water use for purposes other than irrigation, and
2. Spray irrigation.
C. Towns, cities, or counties may further limit the use of gray water described in this Section by rule or ordinance.
Historical Note
New Section adopted by final rulemaking at 7 A.A.R. 758, effective January 16, 2001 (Supp. 01-1).

Practices to Avoid in Gray water Regulation:

Rigid design standards discourage both compliance and innovation. Rather, promote regulation of gray water system performance.

Cumbersome individual permit applications increase cost and discourage homeowner installation of residential systems. Instead, use a blanket permit system for gray water systems under 450 gallons per day. Such a permit will promote simple, low-maintenance systems that comply with regulations.

Limiting gray water regulations to single-family homes excludes the largest water users with the highest recycling potential. Rather, draft rules for commercial and multi-family gray water recycling in the current rulemaking process using the tiered approach described above. Our research shows that several developers in the Missoula area would like to incorporate gray water reuse into multi-family and commercial developments, but are discouraged by the current permitting process.

Requiring full-sized septic systems in conjunction a gray water system consumes land and increases construction costs. Instead, allow reduction in size or elimination of septic system or sewer connection where a legal gray water system in combination with a permitted dry or composting toilet handles wastewater flows.

Defining kitchen sink and dishwasher effluent as “black water” eliminates a safe and substantial source of gray water. Rather, define this discharge as “difficult to handle” and develop guidelines for safely handling of this water.

Septic system disposal of gray water high groundwater areas increases water pollution potential. Instead, propose special performance standards for floodplains and other high groundwater areas. Gray water treated through a constructed wetland is less polluting than septic effluent.

Requiring gravity drain for surge tanks can severely hinder a simple, gravity-fed gray water designs. Presently, gravity drains are not required for septic tanks.
Resources for Further Information

City of Malibu, CA. “Graywater Handbook.,” Malibu, CA: City of Malibu, n.d. http://www.ci.malibu.ca.us/index.cfm?fuseaction=detailgroup&navid=274&cid=2949

Davis, Luise. A Handbook of Constructed Wetlands. Washington, D.C.: GPO, n.d, <www.epa.gov/owow/ wetlands/pdf/hand.pdf>.
Prepared by the USDA, the National Resources Conservation Service and the EPA, this document contains scientific information about how constructed wetlands clean wastewater and how to design them. It covers general info, domestic wastewater, and agricultural wastewater.

Little, Val L. Graywater Guidelines, Tucson: The Water Conservation Alliance of Southern Arizona, n.d. Illustrated guide to Tucson’s permitted gray water systems. http://watercasa.org/graywaterguidelines.php

Ludwig, Art. Create an Oasis With Gray water. Santa Barbara: Oasis Design, 1994.
This book is a great resource for designing a gray water system and had diagrams and product information for most types of systems.

Ludwig, Art “Grey Water Policy Center” web page, http://oasisdesign.net/gray water/law/index.htm
Analysis of gray water laws passed by U.S. states, and municipal codes.

Moshiri, G.A., editor. Constructed Wetlands for Water Quality Improvement. Chelsea, Mich: Lewis, 1993. Proceedings of an International Symposium.
This has scientific information about how wetlands clean water.

New Mexico Environmental Department. (2005). “Liquid Waste (Septic Tank) Program: Gray Water Information.” 11/14/05. http://www.nmenv.state.nm.us/fod/LiquidWaste/graywater.html.
This webpage has a side-by-side analysis of different state gray water laws

Gleick, Peter, Dana Haasz, Christine Henges-Jeck, Veena Srinivasan, Gary Wolff,
Katherine Kao Cushing, and Amardip Mann. (2003). “Waste Not, Want Not: The Potential for Urban Water Conservation in California.” Pacific Institute. November 2003.

Steiner, G., and J. Watson. General Design, Construction, and Operating Guidelines: Constructed Wetlands Wastewater Treatment Systems for Smaller Users Including Individual Residence. Chattanooga: Tennessee Valley Authority River Basin Operations Water Resource, March 1991.
This paper covers general information on constructed wetlands, their functions, and how to design systems.

Uniform Plumbing Code. Philadelphia: International Code Council, n.d.
Appendix G is where you can find what the plumbing code says about gray water.

United States Environmental Protection Agency. Design Manual: Constructed Wetlands and Aquatic Plant Systems for Municipal Wastewater Treatment. Washington, D.C.: GPO, September 1998, 625/1-88/022.
This manual is very detailed about how to design municipal scale systems, but also has interesting information and case studies for learning more about constructed wetlands.
Woelfle-Erskine, Cole, and Allen. Dam Nation: Dispatches from the Water Underground. New York: Soft Skull, 2007.

Technology: