Gray-water recycler on tap in June

For a relatively small investment, you can install plumbing that carries gray water from your shower, bathroom sink and washing machine outside to your lawn, garden, bushes and trees — thanks to new rules passed by the Oregon Department of Environmental Quality.

The city of Ashland is exploring credits or rebates for homeowners to encourage the recycling of gray water, as it means less water pulled from streams, and it saves costs by not using treated drinking water for irrigation, says Ron Doughten, DEQ water reuse program coordinator in Portland.

Doughten will speak during a Gray Water Re-Use Forum planned for 10 a.m. to noon Saturday, June 23, in the Rogue River Room at Southern Oregon University, 1250 Siskiyou Blvd. It is free.

The Oregon Legislature authorized the DEQ to develop and adopt rules creating a gray-water permitting program in 2009.

To prevent potentially harmful contaminants in yards, reuse of gray water is allowed only from showers, baths, bathroom sinks, kitchen sinks and washing machines. It does not allow wastewater from toilets, dishwashers, garbage disposals or laundry loads in which soiled diapers were washed.

Homeowners must pay $90 for a DEQ permit and another $45 every five years. The cost of plumbing permits vary by city and size of job.

Installing a gray-water system is relatively simple, says Ashland city plumbing inspector Michael Grubbs. You install a diverter valve on the drain pipe and run a pipe to irrigation tubing in the yard. You can turn off the diverter in winter and water goes to the treatment plant, as it usually does. You can also install a reservoir in the line so the water doesn't flow out all at once, but it must not be allowed to sit long in tanks or it will become septic.

There are specific guidelines that must be followed in installing gray water systems; see for more information.

"It's a way to reuse a valuable resource and it will help keep your water bills down in summer," says Councilwoman Carol Voison, the council liaison to the Ashland Conservation Commission. "It's going to help our long-term water supply, and it's perfectly safe to use on gardens and grass."

Installation of the system can be as cheap as $100 or a lot more, depending on plumbing and yard size, says Grubbs.

Gray water is dispersed via drip irrigation, so it's much easier to direct it to flower beds, gardens and fruit trees than to lawns, notes Doughten.

"It doesn't have to be expensive and complicated. The materials can be less than $100 in most cases," says Doughten. "And it's really a water conservation measure that saves on water treatment and prevents wasting (purified) water on lawns. We're going to be taking less water out of streams."

In DEQ cost-benefit studies, a normal Ashland home, he says, would reuse 108 gallons a day and save $57 a year, meaning it would pay for itself in a few years.

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John Darling is a freelance writer living in Ashland. Email him at

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