‘Greywater’ Could Help Solve Colorado’s Water Problems. Why Aren’t We All Using It? — Colorado Public Radio

Graywater system schematic.

From Colorado Public Radio (Michael Elizabeth Sakas):

Colorado was the last Western state to legalize greywater usage in 2013. Officials say that by 2050, our water supply could fall short for over one million people. Climate change makes the future of Colorado water even more uncertain.

Colorado’s Water Plan wants to close the gap and recognizes greywater as one tool to help make that happen. However, not a single state-approved greywater system has been built since it was legalized. Only Denver, Castle Rock and Pitkin County have adopted the code, known as Regulation 86, that regulates how greywater gets done in the state.

Avery Ellis isn’t happy about that. He was closely involved when the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment set the rules.

“It takes a little civil disobedience and a little public support to push these laws into local adoption,” the greywater installer said.

In his yard in Longmont, there are young trees and shrubs that are watered through one of his greywater systems.

Longmont isn’t Denver or Castle Rock and it’s nowhere near Pitkin County. In addition to his water saving rebellion, Ellis teaches and helps others how to go greywater without a permit. Because so far, even in the places where it’s been adopted, no one has even applied for a greywater permit.

Not a single one.

In Colorado, only two types of greywater systems are legal. This first one is called “laundry to landscape.” The second is more complicated and costly. Wastewater from a shower or sink is collected in a storage tank and is used for the landscape or to flush toilets. There’s internal plumbing and the water needs to be filtered and treated and can’t be stored for more than 48 hours…

There’s been some interest in these water saving systems in Pitkin County, which adopted greywater in 2018, but environmental health manager Kurt Dahl thinks that “due to the complication of the regulation they didn’t see the benefit.”

[…]

The city of Castle Rock is the newest to adopt the state’s greywater rules, but only for new construction. Retrofitting an old home or building isn’t allowed. Mark Marlowe, the director of Castle Rock Water, cites cost as the contributing factor behind that decision…

That doesn’t mean it won’t ever happen, Marlowe said, but they don’t have the resources to allow just anyone to put in a greywater system.

And that’s why some cities and counties have chosen not to take on greywater at all. Douglas County said it would be too complicated and costly for the county to oversee. They also point to the potential for public health risks.

Boulder won’t either, at least right now. Joe Taddeucci, the city water resources manager, said they first need to study if adopting greywater is worth it. One major concern are water rights. Does the city have the OK to use greywater on lawns, instead of sending it back to the river for the next user downstream? How much water would actually be conserved? And what would it take to regulate this?

…One of the only examples of a large-scale greywater system in the state is a dorm at the University of Colorado Boulder. Williams Village North was built with plumbing that collects wastewater from showers and sinks to flush toilets. Since the city of Boulder hasn’t adopted greywater, the system operates under a research exemption.

“Testing for chlorine levels, alkaline levels. And greywater systems of this size and magnitude are still fairly new technology, and we do want to make sure that we understand it better before we implement in a new building.”

At peak use, when students are in school and the dorm is full, the system uses about 2,000 gallons of greywater a day to flush toilets. It’s an example of where some of the biggest year-round savings can happen.

Sybil Sharvelle, an associate engineering professor at Colorado State University in Fort Collins, has been involved in greywater research for nearly 20 years. She also advised the state on the rules and is disappointed to see all the growth and construction over the past 10 years has failed to include greywater.

The Ute Mountain Ute Tribe goes solar: An image of sovereignty in the Colorado high desert — @HighCountryNews #ActOnClimate #KeepItInTheGround

In addition to bringing in revenue, an expansion of the current project would provide more tribal members with training and jobs in renewables. Photo credit: Avery White via High Country News

From The High Country News (Avery White):

In the southwest corner of Colorado, the sun beats down on the Ute Mountain Ute Reservation. High desert runs to the horizon in every direction, broken only by imposing mesas and Sleeping Ute Mountain. Just under 2,000 people live on the 580,000-acre-reservation, which sprawls across Colorado, New Mexico and Utah. But as temperatures rise with climate change, utility bills rise with them, and the Ute Mountain Ute tribe has begun transitioning to 100% renewable power — a movement towards energy sovereignty they have been forging for almost a decade.

Nations, states and communities around the world are establishing rapid decarbonization goals, including Colorado, which declared a target of 90% carbon-free energy by 2050. With increased pressure for immediate, large-scale changes to energy infrastructure, international policies for expanding renewables have played a critical role in increasing solar technology’s accessibility and efficiency. By combining this evolving technology with local knowledge, the Ute Mountain Ute Tribe is generating energy solutions rooted in its community.

“Our tribe likes to think outside of the box and take risks, and we believe in renewable energy,” said Tribal Community Services Director Bernadette Cuthair. In its first major stride towards net carbon zero, the tribe is building a large-scale solar array through a partnership with GRID Alternatives Colorado, an organization that helps low-income and underserved communities access renewable energy technology and job training. The $2 million project includes 3,500 solar panels that will offset at least 10% of the reservation’s overall energy usage, eliminating about 1,515 tons of greenhouse gas emissions by year one.

The tribe is considering building a large-scale renewable energy business to serve national markets, increase tribal revenue, and provide more training and jobs. “The solar array we’re building now is a 1-megawatt project, but we’re looking into what we could do with 200 or 300 megawatts next,” said Cuthair. “This is just the beginning for us as far as renewables.”

It’s estimated that in just six hours, the world’s deserts receive more energy from the sun than the entire human race consumes in a year. That presents infinite possibilities for areas like the Ute Mountain Ute Reservation. “One thing the tribe has a lot of is land,” said Scott Clow, the tribe’s environmental programs director. “When you look across all of that acreage, there are many locations well suited for solar projects — mainly flat land, and land that doesn’t have a lot of limitations of conflicting use.”

The National Renewable Energy Laboratory estimates tribal land in the Lower 48 states has the capacity to supply 17.6 terawatt-hours (TWh) of solar power, which is more than four times the total electric energy generated by the U.S in 2018. Through renewables, the Ute Mountain Ute and a growing number of tribes are empowering their communities and land — and helping the nation as a whole transition towards a more sustainable energy infrastructure.

“It’s a very exciting time for the tribe, because we’re headed in a different direction as far as sustainability and self-reliance,” said Cuthair. “This is a step towards energy independence for us, and it feels like we’re part of a movement. This is what we want our legacy to be.”

Avery White is a multimedia storyteller and journalist based in Brooklyn, New York. She covers resistance movements around climate change, social justice and immigration. Follow her on Instagram at @averyleighwhite. Email High Country News at editor@hcn.org.