Bethel Team Envisions Greywater Recycling

A greywater recycling system separates reusable water from sewage needing traditional treatment. Graphic courtesy Dump the Bucket.
A greywater recycling system separates reusable water from sewage needing traditional treatment. Graphic courtesy Dump the Bucket.

A Bethel team is re-envisioning how household water is treated. They hope to build and test a custom greywater recycling system for hauled systems in Western Alaska that could steeply cut the amount of water households need to buy and reduce the amount of sewage they produce.

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Their “Dump the Bucket” project aims to treat and reuse water in specific parts of the house. Brian Lefferts is director of Environmental Health and Engineering for the Yukon Kuskokwim Health Corporation, which is leading the initiative.

He says a system like this would be much cheaper than building a centralized piped systems.

“In Bethel and the villages the most expensive part of the system is paying someone to drive around and deliver water. We’re hoping to reduce the number of deliveries and ultimately make water more affordable for people,” said Lefferts.

Many families on small haul systems end up rationing the amount of water and use a fraction of what’s needed to get the health benefit of clean water for bathing and waste disposal.

A greywater system involves routing plumbing so that waste from the toilet and kitchen sink go to sewage, while water from places like laundry, shower, and bathroom sink could be sent to an in-home treatment system.

“It would go into greywater holding tank that would run though a small treatment system with a really fancy biofiltration unit, and then ozonation or ultraviolet disinfectant, and then back to a gray water holding tank,” said Lefferts.

The water doesn’t have to go to offsite treatment and can be used several times in the home.

“Our plan is to try to retreat greywater in the home and provide it to taps that wouldn’t necessarily need potable water. We’d always have potable water available in the kitchen and bathroom sink from a community water treatment source,” said Lefferts. “We’d retreat greywater to actual drinking water standards, but we’d still classify it as gray water, and then provide it back into the home for other taps.”

The group is raising funds now to build a prototype in a lab setting and run it for a year. They’ll track household water usage and test for bacteria, phosphates, nitrites. They hope to keep the treatment system to about $10,000 but there would also be a certain level of re-plumbing involved. Lefferts says the technology exists for greywater systems, but they need to find out exactly how to build a system that works in rural Alaska.

“Every component is commercially available, but we’re putting it together in a way that’s never been tried before,” said Lefferts.

The group is trying to raise $15,000 on an online fundraising campaign and more for the test. More information is at

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Ben Matheson is a contributor with the Alaska Public Radio Network.

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