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Austin - Soon You’ll Be Able to Irrigate the Yard With Your Washing Machine Wastewater

In an eco-friendly city like Austin, you’d think reclaimed water systems for the home would be a no-brainer. Instead, the entire city has only one fully licensed greywater system. But that could soon change.

Greywater systems (or graywater, or grey water – there’s no universally accepted spelling) take used water from sinks, showers and washing machines and funnel it to uses like landscaping instead of sending it down the drain. (Greywater doesn’t include toilet water.)

Last year, the Austin City Council voted to create a working group to study the issue – and whether municipal codes were inadvertently putting the squeeze on wider greywater adoption. It turned out they were: precautions that would be necessary for much larger systems were also being required on much smaller residential properties.

“To date, we’ve only had one permitted, residential graywater system in the City of Austin,” working group member Paige Hill told the council yesterday. But she added that practically all of the code impediments could be resolved by council adoption of the 2012 Universal Plumbing Code; the council is tentatively set to adopt the code at its next meeting.

The most popular graywater system may be the “laundry to landscape” model, which funnels used washing machine water out into the landscape. San Francisco offersits residents close to a full rebate on a washing machine kit. 

Adoption of San Francisco-like incentives would go a long way toward resolving another impediment the working group identified: a process to oversee and encourage adoption of graywater systems.

Council member Bill Spelman asked for more information on how successful SF’s rebate program has been. “Everybody is San Francisco has internalized the need to save water … If that’s the best case scenario, that’s probably the best case scenario we’re looking at here, even with extensive rebates.”

You can view the full presentation to council online.  

Wells has been a part of KUT News since 2012, when he was hired as the station's first online reporter. He's currently the social media host and producer for Texas Standard, KUT's flagship news program. In between those gigs, he served as online editor for KUT, covering news in Austin, Central Texas and beyond.
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