In response to Colorado’s proposed greywater measure

Anna MitchellIn the time that I spent researching and writing this column, I drank three glasses of purified tap water. I flushed a toilet twice.

I am unquestionably blessed to live a life where these actions are not considered luxuries. I do not live in a country where safe drinking water is difficult to come by. Not only is my apartment’s water treated, but I have the means available to take my tap water and purify it further. We have so much clean water that it is used for things that purification is not even necessary for, such as flushing a toilet.

I am fortunate to have access to potable water on command. But that access could be unnecessarily excessive.

For water to be deemed potable, it must undergo an energy-consuming treatment to meet the Environmental Protection Agency’s standards of what is deemed safe to ingest, cook with, and bathe in. However, we use potable water for things like toilet flushing and irrigation despite there being no standards saying our toilet water must be safe to drink.

Greywater, or wastewater that consists of low levels of organic waste, is what drains from bathroom sinks, showers, and washing machines. While graywater is not deemed safe for drinking, there does not seem to be any problems for uses like plant irrigation. Greywater also does not require the same energy-consuming treatment that potable water necessitates.

Water conservationists, led by state Rep. Randy Fischer, have proposed a bill that will recognize graywater systems as a legal process in regions that decide to permit it as such. The bill was recently endorsed by the Colorado Water Congress. While I find water rights to be one of the most infuriating legal institutions in existence, I overall applaud these efforts in sustainability.

The Coloradoan recently reported that from using greywater for toilet flushing alone, 50 percent of indoor (water) demand could be reduced. An estimated capacity of water greater than half the size of the Horsetooth Reservoir could be spared on an annual basis if Colorado embraces greywater recycling.

There is no question in my mind that conservation efforts that could have the potential impact of that magnitude absolutely must be seriously considered.

My support comes with a few conditions. The amount of effluent, or pollutant run-off, must be kept absolutely minimal. We cannot be initiating sustainability efforts for environmental conservation at the cost of harming the environment in other ways.

There should be absolutely no health concerns that result from having graywater around. The practicality and costs of initiating a system that separates greywater from potable water and black water (water containing large amounts of organic waste, such as from kitchen sinks and flushed toilets) should also be taken into consideration.

Fortunately, CSU’s research centers are working hard to make graywater a practical solution within our own campus. The Urban Water Center, an Environmental Engineering research project, has been collecting graywater from Aspen Hall for their study attempting to make water recycling simultaneously safe while requiring minimal energy waste. Their website states that preliminary research has shown that graywater used for toilet flushing and outdoor irrigation is indeed safe, though their study is not yet conclusive.

This only supports the fact that Colorado State is a leading university in sustainability initiatives.
But, for a school that takes such pride in being “green” and gold, we seem to have an embarrassingly high amount of wasted water.

Anyone who has been at the CSU campus during the warm weather months has witnessed the massive number of drenched sidewalks that occurs as a byproduct of the sprinklers watering the many acres of grass and greenery on campus. Grass already is virtually useless and disgustingly consumptive of energy, water and money. There is no reason for our sidewalks to be getting such a shower.

This wasteful practice in its current condition is unacceptable. We live in a drought state in the midst of a global water crisis, and yet we spend precious energy treating water that ultimately winds up wasted on cement.

If we could take the water run off from the student housing showers, hand sinks and washing machines and recycle it on things that we currently waste energy-consuming potable water on — such as irrigating the grass and sidewalk — we could create a self-sustaining system involving minimal wasted resources. Watering our university lawns with recycled graywater would not leave such a devastating impact on our environmental footprint.

Perhaps a gray future is not such a bad thing, after all.