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The City of Tucson Goes Gray

2009 July 2

On September 23, 2008 I was touring the Upper Santa Cruz River with Amy McCoy of the Sonoran Institute as my watershed tour guide. The trip was awesome; I never knew that the southeast corner of Arizona was so beautiful.

Towards the end of our day trip Amy was anxious to get back to Tucson to attend an important City Council meeting, I didn’t know it until later that it was the vote on the Grey Water Ordinance that Amy was trying to make it to. The Sonoran Institute, using EPA Targeted Watershed Grant funds, helped to put together the ordinances for the City Council vote.

Because there’s so little surface water in the Tucson area, the city’s major water source has always been groundwater. The Grey Water Ordinance is aimed at reducing the use of scarce drinking water to irrigate desert landscapes. The city estimates that 45 percent of water use is for landscaping, and using rainwater and gray water would greatly reduce this.

image of green rain barrell under downspoutThe ordinance requires rainwater harvesting plans and capturing systems for any new commercial building built after June 1, 2010. The Ordinance requires that new homes built after that date be plumbed for gray water irrigation systems. This means having a drain for sinks, showers, bathtubs, and washing machines separate from drains for all other plumbing, to allow for future installation of a gray water system.

A key factor contributing to the success of this ordinance was the involvement from the entire community, from plumbers and landscapers to the Friends of the Santa Cruz River, they all added their support for the ordinances success. In addition to the community support, an EPA grant helped finance some of the work towards creating the ordinance language.

The City of Tucson was selected for a Pacific Southwest Regional Environmental Award and on the day of the awards ceremony, I had no idea who was coming to accept the award, but had heard that Councilman Rodney Glassman was coming. He was the driving force behind the ordinances, but I had no idea what he looked like. Well, Rodney is about 6’8”, and super energetic, really hard to miss. Once we connected it was great to sit and chat with him, he is very passionate about the ordinances, Tucson, and Arizona. Way to go Councilman Rodney Glassman and the City of Tucson!

About the author: Jared Vollmer works in the Watersheds Office at the EPA, Region 9 office. His work is primarily with the State of Arizona, Department of Environmental Quality, on reducing nonpoint source pollution in Arizona’s impaired watersheds. In addition, Jared works directly with the Sonoran Institute, a recipient of EPA’s Targeted Watershed Grant, located in Tucson in the Santa Cruz Watershed.

Editor's Note: The opinions expressed here are those of the author. They do not reflect EPA policy, endorsement, or action, and EPA does not verify the accuracy or science of the contents of the blog.

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15 Responses leave one →
  1. Tim permalink
    August 12, 2009

    Gray Water I would say is the underdog of the environmental movement. It’s one of the best ways to reduce water consumption, energy usage, etc. Here is another article related to Gray Water

  2. Zac permalink
    October 6, 2009

    Glad to hear people are so passionate about grey water discharge. Its common place in some areas but in urban centers it just don’t have any place.

  3. Kate permalink
    March 12, 2010

    Just a quick thanks for the post. I live on Tucson property that consumes a great deal of water, and I’m looking for ways to cut back. I’ve been wanting to learn more about grey water, and thank you for the useful links!

  4. Jennifer permalink
    April 30, 2010

    Hello Kate,

    We have installed a graywater system at our home in California. Each time we do a load of laundry, we are watering our plants at the same time. It is so great ! Our plumber installed the system in a couple of hours, and it works great. Totally automatic, nothing else to do. It is connected directly to our drip line. You can learn more about gray water.

  5. Emergency Locksmith permalink
    July 10, 2011

    Thanks for the articles it’s such helpful information here

  6. kloy permalink
    July 10, 2011

    I like this website it’s really cool
    Thanks for the information

  7. Sydney Plumber permalink
    August 5, 2011

    Great things are given in this blog, and i look forward to reading are from you. Keep uo the good work.

  8. paving adelaide permalink
    February 6, 2012

    We all need to look into “Going Green” reducing our demands on rain water for irrigation is a great start. Grey water is an excellent substitute for irrigation on a Commercial or domestic scale. We are based in Adelaide, paving Adelaide is becoming more popular because South Australia is known as the driest state in the driest Continent. We have to be water wise, replacing lawns with paved area’s and artificial lawns is common because it requires little maintenance and the pavers are good for directing what rain we do get into catchment areas for drinking.

  9. Plumber Sydney permalink
    November 23, 2012

    Thanks for the article. The drought here has broken but we are sure that this is something that will really help the environment.

  10. asadul permalink
    March 26, 2013

    Gray Water I would say is the underdog of the environmental movement. It’s one of the best ways to reduce water consumption, energy usage, etc——-

  11. San Francisco plumber permalink
    October 8, 2013

    Thanks author for your nice site and great shared to environment

  12. John permalink
    January 21, 2014

    Sydney has started to use gray water more and more. Thanks for the information.

  13. Emergency Plumber Tucson permalink
    January 30, 2014

    Thanks for the articles it’s such helpful information here

  14. CA plumbers permalink
    February 11, 2014

    Thanks author for your nice blog and great article

  15. Alex Plumbing permalink
    September 19, 2014

    The plants will not know the difference.

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