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Water Conservation and Codes - A Major Step Forward

by Doug Pushard

The 2012 Uniform Plumbing Code (UPC) in is now being adopted across the country. In May of 2015, the State of New Mexico upgraded to this new code and other states are following. The olded code that New Mexico had been operating under was the UPC 2009 plumbing code. Although this may seem like a small step, it is in actuality a large step forward, especially when it comes to water.

Plumbing codes are used throughout the country when building residential and commercial buildings. They are the basis for what planning and permitting department inspectors use to permit and inspect new and remodel construction projects. Although builders could submit plans that used newer technologies not contained in the code books, it required a costly and timely variance and are consequently avoided.

The new code contains a brand new chapter on Rainwater Harvesting and a significant update to the Alternative Water Sources (i.e. rainwater and greywater reuse) chapter. The 2009 UPC code had absolutely nothing about Rainwater Harvesting in the entire manual. To deal with this absence, many cities and agencies published our own guidelines (refer to Links below).

For example, in New Mexico it was possible to install rainwater systems due to rainwater general acceptance, not due to codes. To assist with these installations the State of New Mexico published a rainwater harvesting manual that covers building, installing and maintaining a rainwater system (i.e. refer to Links below).

Now with the new code these systems are permitted without a variance throughout New Mexico and inspectors and permitting departments have a set of industry-wide accepted guidelines to check against.

The older plumbing code also did not include guidelines on passive irrigation systems. Consequently in designing and installing a very water-wise, low maintenance passive irrigation system using greywater system a variance was required. This added significantly to the cost and consequently few were done legally. Again due to this lack of guidance in the code many areas published their own guidelines.

The new plumbing code that is being adopted throught the country will save time and money for builders; thereby reduce the costs of these overall systems and most importantly save precious water.

Only a subset of states use the UPC plumbing codes with the other states using the ICC plumbing codes (i.e. some states like New Mexico use both). The ICC code organization has already published greywater codes and is now working to publish a rainwater harvesting code in 2016 (refer to Links below).

States like New Mexico that want to aggressively promote water conservation are adopting these new codes with these new chapters. With their adoption more builders and individuals will be willing and able to install rainwater and passive greyater systems knowing that they have been designed and installed to a standard that has been vetted and accepted by plumbing professionals nationwide.

This should drive down the costs, help us conserve our precious water, and most importantly ensure that the systems that are installed are safe. This is a great step forward for water conservation efforts across the country.

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