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Phil Matier: San Francisco Supervisor Proposes City's New Big Buildings Use Gray Water

SAN FRANCISCO (KCBS)— San Francisco Supervisor Scott Wiener is proposing legislation that would require large new buildings in the city to use gray water in toilets and for irrigation. Gray water is waste water from kitchen appliances, sinks and baths.

The proposal comes as no surprise as the historic drought is in its fourth year. Meanwhile, California's water board found that savings for the month of February have been the worst since monitoring began nine months ago.

Developers say the gray water project would add millions of dollars worth of costs to construction projects, and that more effective alternatives—such as the use of lower flow toilets— should be implemented instead.

High rises are going up all over the city. Wiener and some of his other compatriots on the board say other parts of the city [other than SoMa] ought to recycle water and they should provide it for themselves, but it's going to cost. Additionally, it's not going to make the cost of those units any cheaper.

Not a lot of people are aware of what's called the purple pipe program. A lot of San Francisco buildings are already mandated to have a whole separate set of plumbing to do exactly what this proposal would do, in effect— delivering secondary water to toilets and to water house plants.

The problem is the city didn't put together its recycling program yet to provide water yet for those pipes. People have the pipes in their buildings, but the city doesn't have the recycling plants in place to provide the water.

What is in the works is a $152 million recycling center out on the city's west side by Golden Gate Park, which would provide about 2 million gallons a day for the city to use gray water in the Golden Gate Park, Lincoln Park areas. But much of the city doesn't have this kind of infrastructure.

It's not just San Francisco; a lot of the older cities like Oakland, Berkeley will probably start letting their meridians go brown in the middle of the street, because the mandate is to use recycled water when watering those types of public spaces. They don't have the pipes or the infrastructure to get water in those types of places. It would cost millions of dollars to get the pipes in place.

If you go out to the suburbs in San Ramon it's going to get a lot greener, not because they're water wasting, but because their systems are newer.

There's only so much water and land in California and we keep bringing people in. Somewhere along the line you have to figure is this serious? Is this the future? And if it is you have to start spending the money to change things.

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