What Is Graywater?

According to Health and Safety Code Section 17922.12, graywater is “untreated wastewater that has not been contaminated by any toilet discharge, has not been affected by infectious contaminated or unhealthy bodily wastes, and does not present a threat from contamination by unhealthful processing, manufacturing, or operation wastes. ”Graywater” includes but is not limited to wastewater from bathtubs, showers, bathroom washbasins, clothes washing machines, and laundry tubs, but does not include wastewater from kitchen sinks or dishwashers.”

Graywater Systems Standards

On July 30, 2009, the CA Department of Housing and Community Development (HCD) Codes and Standards Division and the California Building Standards Commission (CBSC) announced the adoption of the state’s new graywater standards. The new standards became effective on August 4, 2009. "These new graywater standards will be a big step toward reducing California’s water consumption by providing cost-effective guidelines that will be beneficial to every home throughout the state,” said Director Lynn L. Jacobs. “HCD and its staff recognize the importance of continually improving the state building codes and standards to help improve our sustainability.”

For more information regarding the Standards and building permits, please contact the County Permit and Resource Development Department (also known as Permit Sonoma) at (707) 565-1900 or visit the Permit Sonoma website.

Graywater Frequently Asked Questions

1. What is graywater?

Graywater is untreated wastewater that has not been contaminated by any toilet discharge.  Graywater includes wastewater from bathtubs, showers, bathroom sinks, clothes washing machines and laundry sinks.  It does not include wastewater from kitchen sinks, dishwashers, photo lab sinks or laundry water from soiled diapers.

2. What is a graywater system?

Graywater systems are onsite wastewater systems that use graywater for subsurface landscape irrigation through the use of mulch basins, disposal trenches or subsurface drip irrigation fields. 

3. Are there regulations for the use of graywater?

The regulations for the design, construction and use of graywater systems can be found in Chapter 15 of the California Plumbing Code (CPC).  A copy of these regulations can be found on the Permit Sonoma website.

4. Who regulates the use of graywater in Sonoma County?

The County of Sonoma Permit and Resource Management Department (Permit Sonoma) has been delegated the authority to regulate graywater systems in the unincorporated area of Sonoma County by the California Regional Water Quality Control Board (RWQCB).  Permit Sonoma does not regulate graywater systems in the incorporated cities in Sonoma County.  These cities can implement a program of their own that meets or exceeds the requirements of the CPC with approval from the RWQCB.  Questions regarding graywater systems within an incorporated city should be go directly to that city. 

5. Can I allow my graywater to discharge to the ground surface?

Due to the potential for high levels of bacteria and viruses in graywater, graywater must be used in a way that eliminates potential human contact or the creation of nuisances.  The regulations for graywater systems allows for subsurface irrigation only, although graywater can be discharged to the ground surface in a mulch basin as long as it remains covered with at least two inches of mulch, rock or soil.

6. Can I use graywater for other purposes such as flushing toilets?

The CPC allows graywater to be used for flushing toilets but the graywater must meet the same regulations in place for the use of recycled water (Title 22) with respect to treatment, permitting, inspection and cross connection control. 

7. Do I need a permit to install a graywater system?

The CPC exempts graywater systems that collect graywater from a clothes washer only and where no modifications to the plumbing system are required or pumps are used in the graywater system from construction permits but the system must still meet the design and construction standards found in the regulations.  All other graywater systems require a construction permit.  Plans for graywater systems must be submitted to PRMD or the authorized permitting agency for review and approval of the graywater design.  Once the design is approved, a construction permit must be obtained to install the graywater system and allow for inspection by the permitting agency. 

8. Do I need to contact any other agencies for the installation of a graywater system?

You need to contact your local building department to discuss plumbing, venting and electrical requirements as needed for either new construction or the retrofit of an existing structure where a graywater system is proposed.  In addition, you need to contact your local water purveyor to discuss the need for the installation of a backflow protection device at the water meter.

9. What kind of plants can I irrigate with graywater?

Graywater can be used to irrigate fruit trees, ornamental trees, shrubs, groundcover and lawns.  Graywater should not be used in vegetable gardens where the food is a root crop or touches the ground surface.  Be aware that soaps and detergents can contain a variety of chemicals to aid in cleaning that may be harmful to your plants.  Please contact your local landscape specialist for more information.

10.  Where can I find more information on graywater?

Additional information regarding graywater and onsite wastewater systems is available on the Permit Sonoma website.  Permit Sonoma is currently in the process of developing new guidelines for the use of graywater to address the revisions to the CPC and will post these when available.