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Simplified Greywater Permits Debut in Los Angeles

No matter how good our intentions, sometimes the bureacratic hassle of implementing more environmentally friendly systems eventually discourages homeowners from doing the more conscientious thing. The City of Los Angeles is hoping to help with that.

Los Angeles has recently published a revised permitting process for simple residential graywater systems. Instead of an intimidating, time-consuming process that could take months of back and forth, Department of Building and Safety (LADBS) Green Building Chief Osama Younan says the permit could be approved in minutes.

The move is in response to a marked increased interest in implementing graywater systems from homeowners. A typical Los Angeles household uses about 243 gallons of water per day. With a greywater system, homeowners could re-use up to 80 percent of this water to irrigate plants and trees within their property, saving up to 50,000 gallons a year.

"We were getting homeowners and people interested in greywater but they're not technical people," said Younan, "I thought maybe having this simplified plan, showing them examples and leading them through the process would help."

LA Beatification Team installing a greywater system | Courtesy of teh Greywater Corps

Though Younan had been working on a draft of the simplified process for about a year, it was only four months ago when the opportunity came to iron out all the kinks. Younan worked with Greywater Corps, a company specializing in residential graywater conversion; environmental consultants Geosyntec; and The River Project, who funded the project through a grant from the California Coastal Conservancy, to finalize the revised permitting process.

"[The new system] doesn't ease any of the requirements needed to get a permit, but leads you through them in a common sense way," said Greywater Corp founder Leigh Jerrand.

A simple checklist clearly outlines the regulations a homeowner needs to abide by. A one-page calculation sheet takes all the mystery out of the strange numbers that needs to be provided to LADBS plan checkers. "Instead of looking at a separate building code document for the tables, we actually gave them the information on the permitting form itself," said Younan.

Most importantly, the form also provides sample system drawings that a homeowner could simply print and include in their application. "Instead of the homeowner having to draw, they just pull a page from the city's standard detail sheet," said Jerrand, "It's easier for the homeowner because they don't have to draw, it's easier for the city because they already know it works." The permit costs $104 plus surcharges to check the plans and $79 plus surcharges for inspection.

The new process applies for those looking to install a simple gravity-flow greywater system in their homes or condos and plans to discharge no more than 250 gallons of greywater per day. Also called a Branched Drain system, this type of greywater system is ingeniously simple. It uses gravity to move water from your home to mulch basins, which re-distribute the water where it is needed while preventing it from escaping where it would be wasted. "If you can recycle your cans and bottles for a second use, you should be able to do the same thing with your water," said Jerrand.

Read the new permit application here. Permits can be approved at LADBS offices around the city. Greywater Corps will be offering workshops on installing Branched Drain systems in the coming months. Email info@greywatercorps.com to get on their mailing list.

Top: Pipes that constitute a greywater system. Photo courtesy of the Greywater Corps.

About the Author

Carren is an art, architecture and design writer and an avid explorer of Los Angeles. Her work has been spotted on Core77, Dwell, Surface Asia, and Fast Co.Design. You can find her online and on Twitter. 
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