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water running down a drain

About Greywater

Greywater (also spelled graywater) is the term given to the untreated water that drains from your bathtub, shower, washing machine or bathroom sink.  Landscape irrigation is the most common reuse of water in the home. 

Regulations finalized in January 2010 allow homeowners in California to install clothes washer greywater systems, also called "laundry to landscape" systems, in their homes without a permit by following guidelines outlined by Chapter 16A of the California Plumbing Code. The City of Santa Cruz requires households installing these type of systems to file a Clothes Washer Graywater Systems Installation and Maintenance Agreement Form with the Public Works Department.

For many years, installing any greywater system in Santa Cruz was only legally possible by obtaining a building permit and potentially spending thousands of dollars.  The changes adopted by the California Department of Housing and Community Development make reusing some of your water a little easier and relatively less expensive.

What is allowed without a permit?  Currently, a system that collects water from a clothes washer is the only type of system allowed without first obtaining permits.  Although homeowners are not required to apply for a permit for a "laundry to landscape" system, there are guidelines that must be followed (see box below) and City residents must fill out a Clothes Washer Graywater Systems Installation and Maintenance Agreement Form and submit it to the City's Public Works Department.  Greywater systems that drain from other household sources, modify existing plumbing piping, or treat the water to be reused require a County permit. If you live within the City of Santa Cruz, see the City Building Department's graywater guidelines.

Reusing some of your water is a great way to save money, keep your landscape green, and conserve resources.  For additional information, try these links:

Getting Started with Graywater Reuse in Santa Cruz County
scwd2's Graywater Fact Sheet
Central Coast Graywater Alliance
California Urban Water Conservation Council's Water Saver Home Tips
Oasis Design Greywater Info
How Stuff Works--Graywater

Guidelines for Home Greywater Systems

 1. If required, notification has been provided to the Enforcing Agency regarding the proposed location
and installation of a graywater irrigation or disposal system. 
Note: A city, county, or city and county or other local government may, after a public hearing and
enactment of an ordinance or resolution, further restrict or prohibit the use of graywater systems.
For additional information, see Health and Safety Code Section 18941.7.

2. The design shall allow the user to direct the flow to the irrigation or disposal field or the building
sewer. The direction control of the graywater shall be clearly labeled and readily accessible to the

3. The installation, change, alteration or repair of the system does not include a potable water
connection or a pump and does not affect other building, plumbing, electrical or mechanical
components including structural features, egress, fire-life safety, sanitation, potable water supply
piping or accessibility.
Note: The pump in a clothes washer shall not be considered part of the graywater system.

4. The graywater shall be contained on the site where it is generated.

5. Graywater shall be directed to and contained within an irrigation or disposal field.

6. Ponding or runoff is prohibited and shall be considered a nuisance.

7. Graywater may be released above the ground surface provided at least two (2) inches (51mm) of
mulch, rock, or soil, or a solid shield covers the release point. Other methods which provide
equivalent separation are also acceptable.

8. Graywater systems shall be designed to minimize contact with humans and domestic pets.

9. Water used to wash diapers or similarly soiled or infectious garments shall not be used and shall be diverted to the building sewer.

10. Graywater shall 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.

11. Exemption from construction permit requirements of this code shall not be deemed to grant
authorization for any graywater system to be installed in a manner that violates other provisions of
this code or any other laws or ordinances of the Enforcing Agency.

12. An operation and maintenance manual shall be provided. Directions shall indicate the manual is to
remain with the building throughout the life of the system and indicate that upon change of
ownership or occupancy, the new owner or tenant shall be notified the structure contains a
graywater system.

--excerpted from Chapter 16A of the 2007 California Plumbing Code--


Last updated: 2/14/2014 2:30:20 PM