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Change Of Heart: Graywater Bill Seeks Approval In State Legislature

A bill making its way through the Colorado Legislature will allow, for the first time, commercial and residential buildings to use graywater. A similar bill was killed last year.

Graywater comes from sinks, laundry and dishwashing [.pdf] It can be reused for things like flushing a toilet or watering plants. Colorado is the only western state that still outlaws the practice, and that’s keeping some builders from reaching their maximum energy efficiency.

Patti Mason, director of advocacy for the Colorado Chapter of the U.S. Green Building Council, says current state law prevents them from using water as efficiently as it could be. “In Colorado water has always been a huge issue in our member’s eyes,” said Mason.

The U.S. Green Building Council created the LEED certification system used by many new construction projects in Colorado.

Mason says water rights concerns, specifically the idea that every drop of rain is already bought and paid for, has kept state lawmakers from loosening their grip over graywater usage, despite the fact that using it would help conserve the precious resource.

“There’s been a lot of awareness building, largely in part of Denver Water,’ said Mason. “They’ve had a lot of great consumer oriented campaigns around water issues that I think is raising that awareness to where we’re able to go back to Legislature with a very similar billthat was introduced last year.”

Senator Ted Harvey, a Republican from Highlands Ranch, agrees. “The bill is different from the one last year,” Harvey says. “This is very voluntary. It does not require local water providers to regulate it, so it’s not a mandate on water providers.”

Harvey, who supports the bill [.pdf], says water conservation is increasingly on the mind of lawmakers at the State Capitol. “This is not a partisan issue; water is never a partisan issue,” said Harvey.

That thought process is a big deal for graywater advocates like Lindsay Southerland with BCS Incorporated, an energy and environmental consulting firm based in Washington DC. “We’re seeing drought conditions that haven’t’ been seen in a long time,” said Southerland. “And although everything’s completely cyclical, at the end of the day we’re going to run out of water.” 

2020 Lawrence is a new luxury apartmentcomplex in downtown Denver. Chris Achenbach of Zócolo Community Development, says the building is LEED Gold certified, but it’s not as energy efficient as it could be due to the current state law.

The building has a huge collection tank in the basement that holds all of the melted snow and precipitation from its roof. That water is then slowly filtered into the Denver sewer system per state law. “The great irony here and the tragedy is that water on our roof is going out of the building, and meanwhile we’re paying and spending energy to bring new water into the building,” said Achenbach.

With a simple pipe hook up Achenbach says water from the tank could be used to irrigate the building's landscaping, and that would save money and energy.

Patti Mason says the graywater bill has a pretty good chance of passing. But she says it’s just the first step in educating lawmakers about the full potential of graywater use.“I do think that broadening the community’s ability to capture precipitation is next,” said Mason. “There are examples of existing policy in place that has allowed for precipitation harvesting to take place in limited scale. “

The graywater bill easily passed through the House, and was approved unanimously in its first Senate hearing. If the bill is approved by both chambers, it would become law later this year.

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