Plumbing Codes and Standards have been all about protection of public health and safety. This has been accomplished by providing a safe, potable water supply. In water reuse, we are introducing non-potable water into water closets and urinals. You need to ask if we are still maintaining an adequate level of safety.

Many of you have noticed that the 2006 Uniform Plumbing Code (UPC) has a Chapter 16 on gray water and water reuse. While it is great that this section appears in the code, unfortunately, it is a highly restrictive section. There are limited applications to the use of Chapter 16.

That is not the fault of the International Association of Plumbing and Mechanical Officials (IAPMO). The Chapter was originally written by professionals from Southern California and the desert Southwest. The requirements fit the bill for what they were doing. Rather than further delay the implementation of these requirements, the IAPMO Plumbing Technical Committee (TC) moved the chapter into the body of the code.

During the current code change cycle, a number of changes were submitted to Chapter 16. The Plumbing TC recommended that a Task Group be formed to deal with these changes. The intent was to bring forward to the Plumbing TC a single set of recommendations to update and correlate all of the requirements.

To say the least, the duties of this Task Group were herculean. A large cross-section of the industry sat down and started to work out a recommendation for water reuse.

Scare You to Death
Every time I speak on water reuse, I say that it should scare you to death. Okay, I will admit to occasionally using more coarse language. The reason is very simple. Plumbing Codes and Standards have been, since their inception, all about protection of public health and safety. This has been accomplished by providing a safe, potable water supply. All of our plumbing fixtures utilize potable water.

The health of our nation has greatly improved, not because of medicine, but because of safe and sanitary plumbing. The world looks at our model for providing sanitary plumbing.

In water reuse, we are introducing non-potable water into water closets and urinals. You need to ask if we are still maintaining an adequate level of safety.

While we do not drink water from the water closet or urinal, the dog does. Also, children have been known to play in the water closet. Furthermore, the water aspirates when we flush a fixture.

The current requirements in Chapter 16 of the UPC prohibit the use of reclaimed water in residential buildings. Reclaimed water is only permitted in commercial buildings. While that is one way to protect the dog and small children, it does not address the engineer’s desire to use reclaimed water in any green building design.

Another restriction in Chapter 16 is the definition of reclaimed water. This is water that is supplied by a utility. There is no provision in the code to allow an on-site reclaimed water system.

The first two things the Task Group decided to do was to remove these two limitations. Reclaimed water systems will be allowed in any building for flushing water closets or urinals, or for resealing floor drain trap seals. The definition of reclaimed water would be expanded to include all types of reclaimed water systems, not just municipal systems.

The new definition of reclaimed water would allow for the development of on-site systems that properly clean the water. The proposal would reference Federal regulations to define the quality of reclaimed water. Storm water harvesting and gray water also could be a part of reclaimed water. Reclaimed water would have to undergo tertiary treatment to meet quality levels.

While the quality of reclaimed water is perhaps the most important requirement of any plumbing code, the separation and identification of the piping system would be the next most important requirement. The color of purple has become associated with reclaimed water. There are certain plastic pipes that are available in purple just for reclaimed water systems.

The pipe also would have to be clearly marked, “Reclaimed water, not safe to drink.” The concept is to educate the world that a purple-colored pipe must never connect to faucets or fixture fittings that supply potable water.

In addition to pipe identification, the building would have to have signs indicating that reclaimed water is used within the building. These signs must indicate that this water is not safe to drink.

Additional Connections

There may be potable water connections to a reclaimed water system to supply additional water when there is not enough reclaimed water to use. The proposed section adds requirements regarding backflow protection. In addition to the annual testing of the backflow preventers, the reclaimed water system would also have to be inspected.

One of the final safety measures added to the proposed text was a requirement that any water reuse system must be designed as a part of an engineered design. I was asked if this requirement bothered me. I responded, “Heck no!” I would hope that any water reuse system is designed by a licensed professional engineer. I cannot imagine anyone else designing these systems, or for that matter, taking responsibility for the system.

The preparation of the proposed text is only the first step in gaining approval. These requirements must be brought back to the Plumbing TC at their May meeting in Denver. The TC will have an opportunity to approve, amend, or reject the new requirements. I am pulling for an approval, as are most in the profession. The final part of the process takes place at the annual IAPMO Convention this September in Atlanta, GA.

If these new requirements make it into the 2009 Uniform Plumbing Code, it will not be the end of the process. Task Group members have recommended to IAPMO to keep the committee together to continue to address all of the other requirements in Chapter 16. While these changes are great, there still is more work that needs to be done.

To obtain a copy of the proposed changes by the Water Reuse Task Group, you can download a copy of the Plumbing Report on Comments (ROC) on the IAPMO Web site, The ROC contains all of the comments subject to discussion at the upcoming meeting in Denver.