Reusable Water Becomes More Viable for Homes

Ed Begley Jr. talks up going gray—with water.

"One of the biggest issues in Studio City and anywhere these days is water, and the preservation of water," Ed Begley Jr. said. "It's not something we can live without."

So, Begley looked into a gray water system to help re-use some of his waste water, and capturing rainwater to filter and use.

Begley just finished his one-year comparison since he installed his gray and rainwater recycling system a year ago. His two-month April and May usage from 2009 was 638 gallons a day and it dropped to 233 gallons a day average usage in 2010 for the same period.

"That's during the hot spring months, and it's a 63 percent reduction," Begley said. "That's a massive drop!"

He does it by re-using water through a gray water system. It takes the water that runs out of a dishwasher or shower and re-uses for things like flushing the toilet or landscape irrigation. The water is safe, it's just not drinkable (like the water used in faucets on airplanes).

The Los Angeles city permit system still make it a bit of a massive paperwork problem to get permission to install it in your home, but Begley is hoping that his experience with the Building and Safety Department will help streamline the process for people in the future.

"Gray water is starting to really make sense and be a viable solution for people in Studio City, and through permitting, we should make it easier for people to install more gray water systems," Begley said.

"You talk about energy and I care about alternative energy and how we can switch to solar and wind and all that, but with water what are we going to switch to? You can't switch to something else we need water," Begley said.

There are drawbacks of course. "Groundwater is difficult to clean," he said.

He pointed out that there are pollutants that need filtering out, such as hexavalent chromium, or hex chrome, that the movie Erin Brockovich depicted. "The hexavalent chromium is expensive to clean and there are also so many medications flushed into the water system, that's another big problem. There are so many pharmaceuticals in that water that when you need antibiotics then these superbugs have developed."

Begley explained, "The permits for gray water is fairly easy if it all stays below ground. I got a kind of pilot program variance above ground, and I have a very unique system. It's not potable water but very clean, and there is a purple pipe to show that it's not water to drink."

People have to be careful about what system they use, so they don't stink up the neighborhood.

"People are worried about smell and health things, and frankly I'm with them on this one, because you can't have scoff laws and well-meaning people who say, 'I'm saving the environment and re-using water' and then a kid comes by and wants to drink from your sprinkler and gets very sick."

The purple pipe, and specific signage is important to mark the non-potable pipes.

"I've seen signs now even in the bathrooms in fancy restaurants that say the water is not drinkable water," Begley laughed.  "It's not like someone is going to a urinal and drink from it, but that is the kind of great caution they are exercising with gray water."

Begley decided to use a company called Gray Water Recycling Systems (www.reusegraywater.com) and became a spokesman for them.

"It should be easier for residents to get their permits now through the city of Los Angeles," Begley said. "I bullied my way through the process and told them I would have press conference if they do not let me do it. Now, I have this system and I told them that if it fails one test, I will pull whole thing out."

The city decided not to go to war with Belgey, and he said, "I do not want to drive them crazy, they are trying to follow the rules, but if people do not take precautions that I would do, and not have all that filtration, then people will get sick. You've got to be careful."

Meanwhile, he explored a filtration system, LifeSource, that his wife, Rachelle researched after she noticed that their water tasted funny. He didn't like the chlorine taste in the city water, but understood its purpose. And, he didn't want bottled water because of the plastic waste.

Check out the video of their decision to use LifeSource, and photos of Begley's gray water system at his Studio City home. You can also see his discussion about gray water systems at the TreeHuggers Forum.


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