The University of Colorado's new green-themed dorm is equipped with the plumbing system needed to trap wastewater from showers and sinks, sanitize it, and then recycle the water so it can flow through toilets.
But CU officials say convoluted health regulations and state law prevent the university from using the "graywater" system -- which could save at least 1 million gallons of water every year at Williams Village North.
The dorm, which opened last fall, houses 500 students near Baseline Road and 30th Street, and received top green credentials from the U.S. Green Building Council, becoming the only residence hall of its size in the nation to earn the platinum rating for its sustainability features.
But it may be at least another year before CU can begin recycling the dorm's water through a planned pilot program.
"It's a simple concept," said Moe Tabrizi, CU's campus conservation officer. "The complexity is in the water law and water rights."
Waiting for green light
So far, CU has spent $230,000 on a plumbing system in the Williams Village North building capable of recapturing water from showers and sinks, sending it to a collection tank to be disinfected through a filtration system and then re-circulating it through separate plumbing system that would only be used for toilets, said Malinda Miller-Huey, a spokeswoman for CU's Boulder campus.
Once CU gets the green light to use the graywater system, campus officials will need to install a collection tank and filtration system, according to Miller-Huey. She didn't have a cost estimate for that portion of the project.
A bill introduced earlier this year would have given local municipalities greater control over graywater use, allowing them to pass their own regulations. The measure, which had Boulder County's support, died in committee.
Currently, it's illegal in Colorado to use graywater in places where people have access to it, said Joe Malinowski, environmental health division manager with Boulder County Public Health. But Denver International Airport, for example, is allowed to use graywater from its sinks for sprinkler water on remote fields that are closed off to the public.
There may be an exemption in the regulations that would allow CU to use a graywater system in its dorms as a "test system," according to Malinowski, since the university would like to use its system in Williams Village as a pilot program.
The defeated House Bill 12-1003 would have provided much more clarity for recycling water and graywater regulation, said Dave Akers, deputy director of the water quality control division for the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment.
"The law is not clear, frankly," Akers said.
CU's Miller-Huey said that the graywater system would prove to be a learning experience for students enrolled in sustainability-themed academic programs in the dorm, allowing them to study the water saving potential.
Contact Camera Staff Writer Brittany Anas at 303-473-1132 or firstname.lastname@example.org.