Tucson’s grey water ordinance promotes greener desert, wise water use


Washer17-sm72by Pamela Powers Hannley

In 2008, the City of Tucson passed a grey water ordinance requiring new homes to include a stub-out to enable grey water usage. 

Four years later, City of Tucson Development Services Manager Ernie Duate wants the City Council to march backwards and dump the ordinance. Why? Because homebuilders are whining. Grey water plumbing can add $600-1000 to the cost of a new home. On a $150,000 home, that's 0.04% to 0.06% of the cost. According to home builders, that extra cost prices people out of the housing market. (In some ways, this story is similar to the dirty coal story I published yesterday because capitalists are lobbying government to lessen or eliminate envrionmental laws.) 

Duarte also claims that no one wants the grey water piping. According to the Arizona Daily Star, more than 800 homes have been built with grey water piping since 2008 and not one homeowner has come to Development Services and paid the $800-1000 permit fee to complete the grey water installation. Many Tucsonans have "grey water system" like mine, pictured here. It is amazing how much water gushes out of that old washing machine's hose during just one load of wash. (I wish I had the piping in my house.) 

I take issue with Duarte's claim that no one wants grey water piping. What happened to the US and Tucson economies since 2008? The housing and financial markets colapsed. Millions of people lost their jobs and their homes. Tucson became the most empoverished city in the Sun Belt. People who still own homes are just trying to keep them. Just because no one volunteered to pay an extra $1000 to install grey water doesn't mean that no one installed grey water or that no one wants it. More wrangling after the jump.

As City Councilman Paul Cunningham points out, we have to remember that we live in a desert. From the Star…

Patio49-sm72"CAP (water) isn't going to last forever. We're not going to have the Colorado River forever," Cunningham said.

"We don't know what our water's going to be, and we need to have every tool in the shed to be able to conserve water long-term," he said. "By having homes built now fitted with pipes so they can easily transition into gray-water harvesting … allows us another avenue … for water sustainability into the next century."

Pre-fitted homes can also save homeowners money, since retrofitting a home can cost between $3,000 to $4,000, Cunningham noted.

He said the reason no one has taken out a permit yet is that backflow requirements and other issues have made installing a complete system cost-prohibitive.

But he said those can be worked out with some "tweaking."

Councilman Steve Kozachik said the market has spoken. He called the gray-water ordinance a thinly disguised [and very tiny] tax on the housing industry.

I agree with Cunningham. Yes, tweak the ordinance, but don't get rid of it. In fact, the city should do more in the area of conservation– not less. All desert dwellers– consumers and businesses– should be encouraged, enabled, and incentivized to conserve water, collect water, and use it wisely.  The two photos here show flooding around the guest house in my backyard– before I dug tree wells and installed rain water harvesting— and flooding of my neighbor's front yard and the streets in my neighborhood. Why can't my neighborhood and others in Tucson look like this video of Dunbar Springs where neighborhood activists have cut street curbs to redirect monsoon flood waters to curb lawn plantings?

Flood457-smGrey water and rain water resources are wasted all over Tucson every day. To say this is poor resource management is a gross understatement. 

I'll ask again the same question I asked in the coal story, "Shouldn't dirty energy cost more than clean energy?"

Or, in this case, shouldn't green technology– like grey water usage and rainwater harvesting– be cheaper than using city water for everything?

Shouldn't people and businesses be incentivized to be stewards of the environment? Our desert would be lush if we wisely used the water we have, instead of sending it to the sewers. Check out this video with Tucson water conservation icon Brad Lancaster to see what could be.



  1. AAND has anyone checked your sewage bill lately? Talk about a TAX! If its that expensive to treat the stuff, even the clean drinkable water that comes out, lets use all of it we can for grewater. I am a landscaper and a big fan of greywater. Whoever says we don’t want it and don’t need it doesn’t know me……betts*