Date:March 03, 2012

Collaborating to Legalize Graywater Reuse in 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.