Denver authorizes gray water program

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A new gray water program in Denver could help temper demand for new water development projects in Colorado. @bberwyn photo.

City takes big step toward more sustainable water use

Staff Report

Denver, Colorado took a big step toward meeting an ambitious 20 percent water conservation target by passing an ordinance authorizing the use of gray water for residential, commercial and industrial purposes. The city hopes to cut per capita use of potable water by 20 percent by 2020.

Enabling large water users like hotels, multi-family residential complexes and dormitories, as well as industrial facilities, to use gray water will not only help conserve a valuable resource, it will help those facilities save money.

The gray water measure also marks another step away from Colorado’s overly rigid structure of allocating water rights on a first-come, first-serve basis, toward a more common sense scheme that acknowledges the realities of modern resource use and management.

Denver Water, the city’s utility, supports the gray water program.

“Water conservation has been key to ensuring we meet the needs of future generations, and it’s time that as a city and state we take additional steps to embrace an integrated, sustainable approach to urban water management,” said Denver Water CEO Jim Lochhead.

“Using the right quality water for the right use is a critical step in a sustainable water future for Colorado, and this step by the Denver City Council shows the kind of progressive action we need to be taking to make sure we have enough water to meet our future needs,” Lochhead continued.

Graywater is collected from fixtures in residential, commercial, industrial buildings, or institutional facilities for the purpose of being put to beneficial use, and can be collected from bathroom and laundry room sinks, bathtubs, showers, and washing machines. Graywater can be used to flush toilets or urinals, or for subsurface irrigation of non-agricultural crops.

In 2013, the Colorado State Legislature authorized the use of graywater in Colorado, providing local health departments with the ability to monitor and regulate the use and treatment.  In 2015, the Colorado Water Quality Control Commission adopted 5 CCR § 1002-86 (“Regulation 86”), which permits local governments to adopt an ordinance authorizing the use of graywater.

Denver’s ordinance was developed by Denver’s Department of Environmental Health, in coordination with Community Planning and Development and the Mayor’s Office of Sustainability. This also marks the completion of one of the commitments announced by the City at last December’s Sustainable Denver Summit.

“Water is a precious resource in Colorado and as Denver’s population grows, water conservation will be of continued importance. We’re excited to be the first to pass a measure that gives our residents and businesses the ability to save resources and money at the same time,” said Mayor Michael B. Hancock.

The city expects that new hotels, multi-family residential facilities, dormitories, and buildings pursuing a green building certification will all be looking to make use of gray water.

The Board of Environmental Health is expected to approve rules and regulations in late summer describing how the program will be implemented. Participation in the program will be completely voluntary.

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