Will Plans to Ease Recycling of Household Water in S.F. Go Down the Drain?

Fork over the money for the permit, water dude
San Francisco may be getting greener with the city's new mandatory composting rules, but that doesn't mean it's getting any "bluer." While the state is doing everything it can to make water recycling easier for homeowners by dumping restrictions, San Francisco appears to be doing just the opposite. Water conservationists flooded City Hall today for the Building Inspection Commission meeting to voice their opposition to code changes that would require anyone seeking to install a basic (single source) "greywater" plumbing system -- which recycles run-off from water-using appliances, like washing machines, to use in the garden or elsewhere -- to obtain a $160 permit first.

San Franciscans hoping to install such a system don't have to pay any state or city permitting fees -- for now. In August, the state loosened their regulations to facilitate greywater use by allowing the systems without permitting. The state ruling specified that local agencies may pass tighter constraints on greywater rules if they so choose. Looks like San Francisco might so choose.

San Francisco Plumbing Inspector Steven Panelli proposed that greywater systems should be inspected by city employees -- and called for the aforementioned permitting fees. The Building Inspection Commission punted on the matter today, leaving the door open for such fees to be implemented in the future.

Oakland-based Greywater advocate Laura Allen, co-founder of an East Bay group called Greywater Action said at the meeting that requiring permits wouldn't stop people from setting the systems up -- they would just stop folks from coming to the city for advice on how to set them up.

Issues that came up at today's meeting were basically a rehash of everything discussed at the state level -- the most matter prominent being, of course, safety. According to state regulations, homeowners who decide to install the systems can't let their greywater stagnate (that is, they can't let it sit out and host mosquito farms), touch fruits or vegetables, or run into other people's yards (greywater is not to be confused with "blackwater," which is sewage).

No doubt, this greywater matter will bubble over at the Building Inspection Committee again before too long.

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