The State of the Industry: Greywater

With the greywater industry picking up steam and gaining greater acceptance throughout the state, the Water Reliability Coalition sought out two industry leaders on the cutting edge of greywater to learn more.

Steve Bilson is Founder/CEO of ReWater, which does business throughout California. Scott Isaksen is Director of Engineering and Technical Services for Nexus eWater, which was formed in Australia, but built a strong presence in California and is now based in San Diego.

Both are bullish on greywater’s prospects and were kind enough to share their thoughts with us.

Water Reliability Coalition: Thanks for taking the time to talk with us. What do you find to be the general public response to greywater?

Steve Bilson: Very positive. Past surveys have found that greywater had a 98 percent approval rating. Positivity surrounding greywater could have to do with the fact that people know what is in their greywater. Anything found in greywater is something that people have been handling in their homes, and often includes things that are useful for irrigation.

Scott Isaksen: Public reception is generally very good. In California, it seems that people have accepted that the drought is continuous and that water needs to be treated as a limited resource.

WRC: How has the industry changed over the past five years?

SB: There are more players in the game now. Several companies have come and gone, largely because they don’t offer a product that can last. All greywater systems produce ‘scaling’ on the inside of pipes, which eventually breaks off and clogs the system. At this point the system is broken and needs to be replaced, which is too costly for most manufacturers to want to do, leading many to go out of business. This in turn damages the reputation of greywater.

SI: Consumers are beginning to appreciate the fact that treated greywater is highly treated and much cleaner than raw greywater, minimizing much of the mystery and “yuck” factor surrounding it.  Builders and tradespeople are embracing the technology and moving beyond the uncertainty that comes along with being the first.

WRC: Has your company been involved in any efforts to influence legislation?

SB: Yes. In 1992, I personally put in 2,000 hours of work on AB 3518, which changed the California water code, allowing the use of greywater in residences. In 1995, I worked on AB 313, which allowed multi-family, commercial and industrial developments to use greywater. In 2008 and 2009, I worked on SB 1258, which made greywater part of the California Plumbing Code.

SI: Yes, we have worked at both the state and the local level to encourage legislation/policies that will encourage the greater use of on-site water reuse solutions. We are hoping that California and its local jurisdictions will adopt incentives and similar programs that will help with the initial adoption of onsite water reuse systems around the state.

WRC: In your opinion, what are the main impediments to regulatory changes that would promote increased use of greywater systems?

SB: For the greywater industry to grow to its full potential it needs to be mandatory for builders to fit new developments with water recycling capabilities, including purple pipe and greywater. Without the requirement, builders don’t do it because their competitors don’t do it, which leads to unbalanced competition.

SI: Onsite water reuse systems are easiest and least expensive to incorporate in buildings when the buildings are first built.  It can be expensive and invasive to try to incorporate these solutions as a retrofit.  As a result, local jurisdictions should consider requiring new buildings to be built to a "Recycle Ready" specification that provides a clear pathway to upgrading to onsite water reuse at a later date. 

WRC: Is there anything you’d like to add to the conversation regarding greywater systems and legislation?

SB: Greywater is still in the beginning of its business life cycle. In 2001, there was a City Council directive for a greywater pilot program in San Diego, but it never happened. The City could avoid paying millions for a new treatment plant by increasing water reuse throughout the City, but this means that the City loses revenue from not selling water.

SI: Sustainable Silicon Valley is an organization in the Bay Area that is actively promoting the local conversation about onsite water reuse and how local policies can influence its embrace.  They have been very successful at convening interested local parties including government, water agencies, tech giants, sustainability professionals, and environmental advocates to talk about how to move forward.  They have articulated the goal that their region be self-sustaining in water and energy by the year 2050.  We have not seen any other local area with such a clear mission statement related to water.

Jason Roe