Going Beyond the Flint Water & Housing Crises: Community-led Solutions for Equitable Systems

Recode is pleased to welcome panelist speakers Monica-Lewis Patrick, CEO of We the People of Detroit and Cat Goughnour of the Right 2 Root Campaign. Ms. Lewis-Patrick will discuss how decades of planning decisions led predictably to the Detroit and Flint water crises and its relationship to gentrification, displacement, and a regional housing crisis. Ms. Goughnour will share how we can “co-create a people+place-based, health+wealth community stabilization process for Portland’s African American/Black residents to reduce disparities, increase opportunities and generate prosperity.”

This session aims to frankly examine the disproportionate effect that historic and current city planning has on disinvested communities. Through case studies of community-led solutions that address wealth and infrastructure disparities, this session also aims to inform and inspire our own community to collectively do better.

Recode invites you to read We the People of Detroit’s recent PRESS RELEASE “Detroiters Join Flint in Calling for Safe, Affordable Water for All


Reusing graywater is a great way to save money, water and connect with your landscape. This summer, Depave, Graywater Action, Recode and other local groups are teaming up to introduce curious homeowners and installers to real installations, help simplify the permitting process, and educate on where to find appropriate parts.

Go to greywateraction.org to sign up for workshops and events happening June through September.

Check Oregon Environmetnal Council’s post about 5 amazing things you do when you send water from your laundry and household sinks into your yard.














This series of workshops and events is brought to you by East and West Multnomah Soil and Water Conservation District.






Hassalo on 8th is a paradigm shift in urban living and the water story of the development epitomizes this movement. Come check out this three-building, mixed-use development that spans four city blocks as part of Portland’s Lloyd EcoDistrict. The buildings share one of the largest natural organic recycling treatment systems in the US, which treats all the buildings’ wastewater (60,000 gallons per day including human waste from toilets) for reuse for toilet flushing, mechanical cooling and sub-surface landscape irrigation in an urban setting.

Learn how about the economic and ecological benefits of district scale onsite wastewater treatment and reuse. Tour is free and open to the public.

Sign up today



Our three-year collaboration with the International Living Future Institute will develop solutions pathways that enable early adopters and practitioners to better navigate the range of cultural, financial, and legal challenges to adoption of sustainable wastewater treatment systems.  Solutions will be for Washington, Oregon and California; however during the first year, we investigated barriers and solutions from across the country. These could be at any scale of development, from single family residential to district scale.

Ultimately, our solutions will be created by working directly with jurisdictions and pilot projects that showcase sustainable wastewater treatment systems or by confronting barriers unclear or blocked by legal barriers. We recognize that widespread adoption of water reuse and decentralized sewage will only occur as a partnership with permitting agents and policymakers and that our collective knowledge will enable this progress for everyone.

This page highlights our work products and some of our successes to date.

Top Ten Barriers & Opportunities White Paper

We are interviewed over 50 water practitioners working on project teams and in jurisdictions around the country about their efforts to permit innovative water systems; what worked, what didn’t, and what they learned. This white paper summarizes our process and lists the “Top Ten” barriers along with a list of project opportunities, some of which Recode is pursuing in the remainder of our grant.


Water Summit of the Living Future 2017 unConference

Many people are seated at round tables as Paula Kehoe addresses the room.

Recode sponsored Paul Kehoe of the San Francisco Public Utilities Commission to address the 2017 Water Summit participants regarding the groundbreaking water reuse work she and other partners are doing in California and nationally. A few months after the conference, Seattle adopted a rainwater harvesting regulation based on San Francisco’s water reuse code.

The International Living Future Institute and Recode teamed up to host the 2017 Water Summit one day before the start of the Living Future 2017 unConference. Over 80 attendees provided feedback on next generation water barriers and potential solutions pathways the informed our white paper above.

If you are looking for precedents of innovative approaches to next generation water and wastewater infrastructure check out the Code Innovations Database. Recode, Molly Winter, has contributed several case studies including one on a composting toilet pilot project in Cape Cod and a more successful one in Arizona.

Ever wondered about ATAC? They’re the all volunteer committee that has helped projects seek appeals for innovative green building practices from the high tech, like an air admittance valve to the low tech, like light straw clay. Come learn what ATAC does to help innovative projects get permits. This is part of a monthly series by the Portland Collaborative.

Join Molly in a facilitated discussion with Terry Whitehill of Portland’s Bureau of Development Services about ATAC.

When:   Wednesday, October 27, 5:30-7:30pm
Where:  Brightworks Sustainability, 412 NW Couch St #202, Portland, OR 97209

This is part of a monthly series the Portland Collaborative puts on to have fun network, and learn about green building initiatives, policies and techniques being deployed locally. The Portland Collaborative is a branch of both the Cascadia Green Building Council and the International Living Future Institute (ILFI).

The Alternative Technology Advisory Committee, authorized under Portland City Code 24.10.087, assists the Bureau of Development Services in reviewing innovate sustainable building technologies and methods for compliance with the Building Code requirements. The Committee reviews requests submitted by applicants to determine if emerging technologies can be found to meet the building code, as well as promote a positive impact to the earth’s natural systems. The Committee makes non-binding recommendations to the Director (or designee) of the Bureau of Development Services that can be considered as part of a building code appeal.

5:30-6:15 Reception

6:30-6:45 ATAC Committee

6:45-7:30 Idea Exchange

RSVP (though not required)

Recode’s team created a site-built composting toilet code with options for urine diversion for IAPMO’s 2015 Green Supplement to the Uniform Plumbing Code.

The 2015 Green Supplement is also serving as the foundation for WE-Stand 2017, IAPMO’s released in May 2018 as a National Standard for water efficiency and sanitation. IAPMO is a plumbing and mechanical industry group whose codes have been adopted by jurisdictions worldwide.

Huge thanks to editor Mathew Lippincott and the entire working group that collaborated on this project:

Mathew Lippincott recodenow.org

A researcher and designer, Mathew co-founded the Public Laboratory for Open Technology and Science. There he develops environmental monitoring tools with a focus on involving and training non-technical participants in technology deployment. When not researching the history of technology, you can find him flying kites & balloons.

Laura Allen greywateraction.org

Laura Allen is a founding member of Greywater Action and has been exploring low-tech, urban, sustainable water solutions for the past 15 years. Laura’s research and writing on composting toilets and urine reuse has been featured in the anthology Dam Nation: Dispatches from the Water Underground, and in the international journal Sustainable Sanitation Practice with her article Backyard Urine Recycling in the United States of America: An Assessment of Methods and Motivations. She has been featured in an Ask This Old House episode on greywater, and a Peak Moment TV episode on composting toilets. She leads workshops and presentations on composting toilets and greywater systems in California. Laura has a degree in Environmental Science from UC Berkeley, and a masters in education. She has lived with a waterless composting toilet in her own home for the past 10 years.

Mark Buehrer 2020engineering.org

Mark is the founder and director of 2020 ENGINEERING located in Bellingham, Washington. He is a registered professional civil engineer, author, and inventor with broad experience in engineering design, construction and project management. Mark has provided Master Planning, Engineering Design and/or Construction Management assistance on dozens of LEED, LID and other sustainable type projects in many parts of the U.S.A including the Bullitt Foundation building in Seattle.

Molly Danielsson recodenow.org

Molly Danielsson is researcher and content developer for Recode Oregon. Molly has conducted extensive interviews with installers, developers, and regulators in the onsite community both nationally and internationally in order to create educational materials about performance based codes for Recode. Molly creates visual explanations of technical information for companies ranging from IceStone durable surfaces to the Medical Reserve Corp to USA Today.  BA Environmental Science Oberlin College 2007. Molly worked with Mathew Lippincott and PNCA’s  Collaborative Design Program to create an emergency sanitation handbook called the Sewer Catastrophe Companion, which has been exhibited at the Center for Disease Control and approved by the Portland Bureau of Emergency Management. Molly also co-wrote the composting toilet code for the Oregon Reach Code.

Melora Golden recodenow.org

Melora has provided vision and project management for Recode since 2008. Before becoming an environmental activist, Melora was a social worker for 12 years. Melora Golden believes that bringing more intention and tools to group interaction will significantly increase the effectiveness of those groups. Melora has visited 37 countries learning about sustainable design and visiting intentional communities. She has attended the last two international permaculture conferences and convergences. She is active in the international permaculture community and was the lead organizer of the second and third Women’s Permaculture Gatherings.  She is a seventeen-year resident of Portland OR, she is dedicated to her wonderful city and to the sustainable evolution of the world.

Colleen Mitchell 2020engineering.com

Colleen is a civil engineer with five years experience, specializing in water and wastewater systems design, technical report writing, and LID site design. Her educational background includes a B.S. Degree in Civil Engineering with a focus in water resources including courses in “Green Engineering”, LEED Rating System and Low Impact Development (LID) site design. Colleen is a LEED Accredited Professional (LEED AP) and a Certified Erosion and Sediment Control Lead (CESCL). Colleen has completed the LID Technical Training Program certified by Washington State University and the Puget Sound Partnership. Colleen uses stormwater modeling on small and large scale projects using LID techniques to meet and exceed jurisdictional requirements.

Kim Nace richearthinstitute.org

Kim Nace is a co-founder and administrative director of the Rich Earth Institute. She holds an M.A. in International Administration from World Learning and an M.A. in Educational Leadership from Keene State College. She was a Peace Corps volunteer in Botswana, has coordinated educational research funded by the MacArthur Foundation, and also served as an Elementary School Principal in rural Vermont and in Chennai, India. She has been passionate about sustainable sanitation alternatives ever since creating an educational video about composing toilets for her 1989 master’s thesis project. Kim and her family use a urine diverting composting toilet.

Glenn Nelson compostingtoilet.com

Glenn Nelson founded Advanced Composting Systems in the mid-1980s creating the Phoenix composting toilet. Prior to that he was a licensed manufacturer of Clivus toilets (one of two in the U.S.) and played a key role in improving the Clivus design. Through working on the Clivus design, he gained a great deal of insight into the workings of composting toilets then, with the Phoenix, he designed a very different product.

Abe Noe-Hayes richearthinstitute.org

Abraham Noe-Hays has been working with dry sanitation systems since 1990. He is the research director at the Rich Earth Institute, where he oversees the Urine Nutrient Reclamation Project, the nation’s first community scale urine collection and recycling program. The Institute develops and disseminates methods and technologies for urine recycling, and is conducting USDA and EPA funded studies to evaluate the fertilizer value of source-separated urine. Abraham also operates Full Circle Compost Consulting, founded in 2001, providing complete design, manufacture, and maintenance services to individual and institutional owners of dry toilet systems. He is the eco-sanitation expert for Sustainable Harvest International, and has helped initiate urine-diversion projects in Nicaragua, Honduras, Belize, and Panama. He holds a B.A. in Human Ecology with concentrations in agroecology and compost science from the College of the Atlantic.

David Omick watershedmg.org/soil-stewards

David Omick does sustainable system design and consulting with individuals and organizations in the U.S. and Mexico. in the early 2000’s, in conjunction with BorderLinks, a Tucson-based NGO, he designed a large composting toilet facility at Casa Misericordia in Nogales, Sonora to serve border education delegations from the United In 2005, as the representative of a composting toilet stakeholder group, he contributed rule language to the composting toilet section of the Aquifer Protection Rules administered by the Arizona Department of Since 2011, he has worked closely with the Watershed Management Group (WMG), a Tucson-based NGO. In that capacity, he has led composting toilet workshops for WMG. He has also been instrumental in facilitating a 2-year composting toilet pilot project led by WMG and funded by a grant from the Environmental Protection Agency. This project has involved 23 site-built composting toilets of two designs, one of which is his. The project has been in collaboration with the Arizona Department of Environmental Quality and the University of Arizona’s School of Microbiology and School of Anthropology. He serves on the advisory committee for this pilot project.

John Scarpulla sfwater.org

John Scarpulla is a member of the Urban Watershed Management Program at the San Francisco Public Utilities Commission, where he specializes in green infrastructure, non-potable reuse systems, and ecological sanitation. Before coming to the San Francisco Public Utilities Commission, he worked at the Sierra Club teaching integrated water resource management strategies to planners, elected officials, and developers in San Mateo and Santa Clara counties. He also has worked in the commercial construction sector as a project manager for mechanical and plumbing contractors. John received his master’s degree in Environmental Planning from San Jose State University.

The town of Falmouth, Massachusetts near Cape Cod, authorized funding for a pilot project to evaluate the efficacy, installation cost and public acceptance of both composting and urine-diverting toilets (called the Eco-toilet Demonstration Program). Check out Recode’s case study in the Code Innovations Database.

Homeowners were given rebates and other incentives to encourage them to use eco-toilets.  Massachusetts is the first state to give a variance to allow urine-diverting fixtures and site-built composting toilets, which do not have ‘product acceptance’ in Massachusetts.

Arizona recently completed a two-year pilot project of 24 site-built composting toilets. Check out Recode’s case study in the Code Innovations Database.


This will help us know when and where to have more graywater workshops.

Check out Graywater Action’s current calendar to find out about graywater courses. We are trying to help gather info about interest in Oregon so Graywater Action can plan and get funding for workshops where people are most interested.


Intro to Policy Level Activism was held in October 2014. Our 2016 training focused on key stakeholders in regulatory agencies effected by composting toilets.

Thank you to the amazing participants of our October 2014 training where we introduced our methods and strategies. Thanks also to Kari Koch of Rise Communications for her sessions on Community Organizing and Facilitation/Presentation Skills.

The 2014 training covered:

  • Recode’s approach and strategies for effectively changing codes.
  • Performance based codes (an introduction, their benefits and implications).
  • How to give presentations on performance based codes. Don’t know what performance based codes are? That’s okay! You will after the training!
  • Honing your facilitation skills: Difficult people, difficult questions and holding space for truth.
  • The Mechanics of Successful Community Organizing with Kari Koch of Rise Communications. It’s more than just fliers and Facebook. Learn how to organize low stress, high impact events with up front strategizing, turn out mechanisms, and outreach planning for groups.

Since 2011 Recode has researched how other jurisdictions are creating codes that protect water resources while allowing for innovative solutions to our sanitation problem. Performance-based codes require that any sanitation system reduces pollution to an acceptable amount before the product of the sanitation system interacts with the environment. Current prescriptive codes don’t address a sanitation systems ability to protect the environment from pollution.

This training was specifically designed to increase the effectiveness of our current campaign to legalize all sustainable sanitation strategies in Oregon, but the approach can be applied to a range of strategic code changes (bees, fruit trees, zoning). We asked that attendees commit to giving one or more presentations in their local communities about the benefits of performance based codes.


Photograph by Ole Errson

Photograph by Ole Errson

Septic Demystified

How might our systems of governance be designed for learning — for both innovation and impact? In planning and development, one promising approach is called performance based: the use of regulations and codes that define desired outcomes, but not how such outcomes might be achieved.

Performance Standards in Onsite Sanitation Codes:

Performance codes start with setting a baseline reference for a pollutant outside the context of any specific technological solution, defining what needs to happen such that those pollutants are transformed into something acceptable for release into the environment, creating general guidelines for designing systems to make this happen, verifying that pollution is removed in the real world, and releasing performance data to the public.

Pollution Standard:
Pollution is defined as “daily loadings” that an average person will put on a sanitation system through their excrement and washwater, defining quantities of feces, urine, and other sanitation concerns that a typical household generates, as well as concentrations of pollutants such as nitrogen and phosphorus.

Performance Standard:
Performance is defined by logarithmic reductions of diseases and percent reductions in the discharge of nitrogen, phosphorus, and other concentrated pollutants in comparison to the baseline pollution standard with no treatment.

Design Standard:
All new systems could be designed for testability. For septic systems this means accessible ports in the tank and testing wells in the leach field or sand filter. In the event of an environmental concern, all systems can be tested if needed.

Verification System:
There’s a number of different ways to verify performance of different technologies, using existing standards, state test site results, etc.

Accessible System Data:
The testing and verification methodology is openly available, as is all testing data as well as average installed costs. This data assists homeowners in making choices, and policy makers in decisions.

Performance Based Codes in Sweden and Finland

The five points above are summarized from the codes in Finland and Sweden. Both countries passed legislation modeled after the USA’s Clean Water Act in the 1970′s, and created EPA departments modeled on the US EPA.

The Finnish rules are the Government Decree on Treating Domestic Wastewater in Areas Outside Sewer Networks (542/2003) [english]. The Swedish guidelines are Swedish EPA NFS 2006:7 [Swedish with English summary].

Performance Based Codes in the US

The National Onsite Wastewater Recycling Association has created a model code process supported by the US EPA. NOWRA’s model code provides excellent guidance on implementing Design Standards and a Verification regime.

Maryland has implemented a Verification system and testing standards independent of NOWRA but similar in its aims.


Our goal was to educate communities & regulators in Oregon about the benefits of creating “waste” treatment rules for Oregon that judge alternatives to septic and sewer systems on their performance and let alternatives compete on cost.  Our goal was to lay the groundwork for a positive, effective, apolitical sanitation rules process.


We involved and educated over 200 citizens in our public presentations on ecological sanitation. Our largest presentation was to over 100 people at City Repair’s annual Village Building Convergence in Portland. Recode hosted public presentations & discussions with Department of Environmental Quality staff in Bend, Medford, Coquille, Ashland, Hood River, Pendleton, Portland, Eugene, Salem, and Gresham.

Bend discussionDiscussion after Recode’s presentation in Bend, Oregon.

ashland public groupRecode presentation in Ashland, Oregon library. Much thanks to local Recode volunteer Melanie Mindlin.


Recode discussion in Coquille, Oregon.

Recode’s Goal: legalize graywater re-use internally and externally for both owner-built and professional systems across the state.

Achieved: Recode led the coalition that successfully legalized external graywater re-use year round within greenhouses and seasonally for outdoor plants. Recode also collaborated early on with the team that legalized internal graywater reuse (for flushing toilets and cooling mechanical systems).

Recode organized the first public forum on graywater reuse in April 2008, co-sponsored by the Office of Sustainable Development. We invited collaborators including architects, builders, and advocates from the Portland community to discuss their desire for gray water reuse and their values around water.

From that forum two groups mobilized, one that focused on graywater reuse for internal use for flushing toilets (after treatment) and one that focused on external reuse for taking advantage of graywater for fertigating orchards and plants. A small group, including then co-chair of the Oregon State Plumbing Board Jon Gray advocated to create an Oregon Alternate Method to allow for interior use of rainwater and interior reuse of graywater within the plumbing code. The second group formed a legislative team on external graywater reuse co-charied by Recode founder Brenna Bell.

  • Brenna Bell and other Recode volunteers helped draft House Bill 2080
  • Met with key legislators including Jackie Dingfelder and Ben Cannon to gather support for the bill,
  • Attended every legislative session and hearing on the bill, and
  • Organized over 60 organizations to support the bill.
  • In order to keep the process science based and keep people informed of the process Bell provided regular updates to organizations and individuals about the bill.
  • In 2009 the Governor invited Recode to the signing of the HB2080 into law.


HB2080 legalized the reuse or graywater for external use, but specific codes needed to be created to outline how graywater reuse would be permitted and overseen by Department of Environmental Quality(DEQ) which oversees where water goes once it leaves bulidings. Bell was appointed to the Graywater Advisory Committee which worked with the DEQ to create the graywater rules. Recode volunteers Melora Golden and David Osborn created educational materials for that committee during the decision making process. Recode organized people to provide public comment at every meeting of the Advisory Committee and provide comment on the draft graywater rules.

To Do

Legalize disposal of graywater within “graywater reuse and disposal systems.”  The DEQ has chosen to interpret “reuse and disposal system” as a system with a valve to switch between reuse and disposal.  These goals have been incorporated into the Ecological Sanitation Campaign.


In Oregon graywater for internal reuse was legalized in 2008 led by Jon Gray and other. Graywater external reuse was set in motion with HB 2080 in 2008 and the DEQ began accepting graywater reuse permits in April 2012. Check out  DEQ’s webpage on how to get a permitted graywater system for everything you need to know about the permitting process and recommendations for construction.

Tier 1 permit costs $50 for application fee + $40 annual compliance fee –fee waived if you renew online).

Includes <300 gallons per day of graywater used for

•Subsurface (2″) irrigation of gardens, lawns, and landscape plants, green roofs, compost, food crops (except root crops or crops that have edible portions that contact graywater)
• Subsurface (2″) drip into soil, mulch or compost
• Graywater must be used within 24 hours
• Graywater must not surface, pond, or runoff.

*Graywater can be used year round in a greenhouse.

Application for Tier 1 permit.

Tier 2 costs $534 for new application fee + $50 annual fee. Tier 2 is for systems expecting less than 1,200 gallons per day and graywater can be used for drip irrigation, ponds, or year round subsurface irrigation for a greenhouse.

Tier 3 permit fees depend on the project and are designed for over 1,200 gallons per day or reusing graywater for sprinklers or dust control. They’re expected to range from $545 – $2,723 for new application fee. Annual fees may range from $341 -817.  Tier 3 permitted graywater systems can treat the graywater of multiple households.

If 30 households shared a graywater system that cost $1,500 to be permitted, the cost per household for the permit would be $50 per household, the same as a Tier 1 application fee.  The annual renewal costs for 20 households to share a Tier 3 system (imagining their annual fee was on the high end– $800) would be $40/household, equivalent of the Tier 1 annual fee.  Recode encourages communities to think creatively about how to reuse their graywater. Imagine a shared treatment system for a neighborhood block that connects to one treatment system that nourishes a neighborhood greenhouse, pond and shared cistern for watering individual gardens.

Check out the fact sheets from the DEQ explaining the graywater permitting process and homeowners guide to graywater reuse.


Recode successfully legalized site-built (i.e. built custom to the location or nonproprietary) composting toilets & non-NSF certified composting toilets through the Reach Code in 2011.  The Reach Code Amendment submitted by Recode, includes performance testing standards requiring a moisture test (<75% moisture) and fecal coliform test (<200 fecal coliforms/gram) after the first batch of treatment is complete, the same tests required by NSF certification.