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Leading the Way to ‘YES’ – Permits and Policy

The 3 ½ year epic journey over water is ending a chapter this week as work begins on the constructed wetland at Desert Rain.  For Morgan Brown, President of Whole Water Systems, ‘ the odyssey through the permitting process has been intellectually and professionally, frustrating and fascinating’. Whole Water Systems analyzed water and wastewater needs, then designed and engineered the systems that can meet those needs and the requirements of the Living Building Challenge Water Petal.

After 3 years of wading through policy and permits, excavation is finally underway for the constructed wetland.

After 3 years of wading through policy and permits, excavation is finally underway for the constructed wetland.

To receive the LBC Water Petal certification, Desert Rain must collect all water on site for all domestic and irrigation use and process 100% of the wastewater on site.  The harvesting of rainwater to meet all water needs in an arid climate was overcome by designing hard-working roofs. The structures at Desert Rain have roof surfaces that maximize collection of the minimal, average precipitation of less than 11” annually.  Desert Rain is a pioneer project in the state of Oregon, as it received approval to use the rainwater for all domestic use, including, drinking water. The State of Oregon Chief building code official told Morgan Brown, ‘we’ve never had a system like this push the limits of our new state rainwater harvesting guidelines’.

 

Two of the most challenging issues for Living Building Challenge projects involve the Water Petal.
 Net Zero Water
100 percent of occupants’ water use must come from captured precipitation or closed loop water systems that account for downstream ecosystem impacts and that are appropriately purified without the use of chemicals. 
Sustainable Water Discharge
One hundred percent of storm water and building water discharge must be managed on-site and integrated into a comprehensive system to feed the project’s demands.

The graywater and blackwater systems became a much longer story as the process moved through uncharted territory.  Initially there was verbal approval and e-mail approval from the City of Bend public works for an on-site, wastewater pre-treatment system.  As more details of the design and systems unfolded more questions and requirements impeded permit approvals. There was dialogue between The City of Bend Public Works and the Oregon Department of Environmental Quality about jurisdiction for the project. DEQ relinquished authority to the city but the city wanted a DEQ stamp of approval to proceed.

Patrick Fitzgerald, Principal Engineer with Whole Water Systems, Morgan Brown, President and Founder of Whole Water Systems, and James Fagan with Timberline, look over the wetland plans.

Patrick Fitzgerald, Principal Engineer with Whole Water Systems, Morgan Brown, President and Founder of Whole Water Systems, and James Fagan with Timberline, look over the wetland plans.

The composter/evaporator for blackwater was proving to be the largest challenge since on site pre-treatment and eventual on site treatment and reuse has never been done when there is access to a public sewer district. In order to move forward the decision was made to apply for the graywater system permit first. The new State graywater program issued final rules in August of 2011 and began issuing permits in 2012. The rules are based on recommendations of a statewide advisory committee with limitations and safeguards for reuse of the graywater. The rules define three graywater types and a three-tiered approach to permits based on the extent of treatment, volume of water and allowed uses.

Monty with McKernan Enterprises compacts the soil.

Monty with McKernan Enterprises compacts the soil.

Desert Rain is one of the most innovative graywater projects to apply for a permit utilizing a primary, pre-treatment tank, then processing the graywater through the on site constructed wetland, into a 1,000 gallon holding tank, then pumping to a 5,000 gallon storage tank to be distributed for irrigation use. Due to the graywater being stored, Desert Rain had to apply for a Class II permit.  The Class II permit process is more involved requiring a system description and maintenance and operation guidelines.

Patrick Fitzgerald, PE for Whole Water Systems and Brent with McKernan Enterprises look over the inflow pipe.

Patrick Fitzgerald, PE for Whole Water Systems and Brent with McKernan Enterprises look over the inflow pipe.

 

After months of design, submittals, re-design, and re-submittals, the graywater system finally received approval. In an email from Morgan Brown on June 26, 2013, he wrote, ‘Thanks for all the team effort to achieve the first. We broke in new Oregon code for graywater (DEQ had expressed a lot of interest and enthusiasm for the system and overcame Building Division concerns about being on the bleeding edge.’

Being on the bleeding edge requires patience and persistence. There is much to be learned and applied for future projects and those who follow. It became evident that language is crucial in the application process and interpreting code at city and state levels. Determination between ‘code’ and ‘guidelines’ became a significant factor, as did the naming of materials. The initial plans submitted referred to the graywater tank as a ‘septic tank’. Under city code, ‘cesspools and septic tanks’ are not allowed within the city limits where a public sewer system is available.  The tank at Desert Rain would be used as a ‘primary treatment tank’. When plans were re-submitted with the new terminology, the permit was approved.

A rose by any other name... language became crucial in the permitting process. The naming of the 'primary treatment tank' was the difference between a 'yes' or a 'no'.

A rose by any other name… language became crucial in the permitting process. The naming of the ‘primary treatment tank’ was the difference between a ‘yes’ or a ‘no’.

 

Morgan admitted there were many moments of frustration. There was a point of ‘make this happen or give up’.  He acknowledges  regulations are in place to get all channels of standard approval; the DEQ, Health Department, and City Public works are the major channels. The City of Bend has some progressive sustainability language regarding building. On the other hand, it is someone’s job to cover the risk. ‘To get to ‘yes’, the risks must be removed, Morgan said. ‘The code book is full of reasons to say, no. We have to be able to find ways to, yes.’  In the end, the solution will most likely be political – lobbying for change in local and state building codes to embrace progressive, sustainable design.  Desert Rain systems have been pushing the limits of existing regulations. With the designs, engineering, and monitoring of the systems in place  –  Desert Rain can begin, leading the way to ‘YES’.

STAY TUNED FOR MORE ON THE WATER STORY AND SYSTEMS: CONSTRUCTION OF THE WETLAND, AND THE PENDING PERMIT FOR BLACKWATER

Morgan Brown (right) and Patrick Fitzgerald with Whole Water Systems stand in the wetland that has been pending approval for many, many months.

Morgan Brown (right) and Patrick Fitzgerald with Whole Water Systems stand in the wetland that has been pending approval for many, many months.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Cause for a Hullabaloo

A fleet of construction vehicles, workers, and projects are underway this week at Desert Rain. There is a bit of a hullabaloo over the recent news about water. Last Wednesday, the city of Bend approved the plan to treat and reuse the wastewater from the sinks, showers, and laundry by processing it through a constructed, bio-reactive wetland. Desert Rain is the first residential project in Oregon to receive state and city approval for its graywater treatment system.
click here to read the news in the Bend Bulletin

The graywater holding tank will collect the water that has been treated through the wetland. It will then be pumped to a 5,000 gallon holding tank next to the garage to be distributed through irrigation lines for the landscaping.

The graywater holding tank will collect the water that has been treated through the wetland. It will then be pumped to a 5,000 gallon holding tank next to the garage to be distributed through irrigation lines for the landscaping.

The Oregon Department of Environmental Quality approved the plan on June 10. It has been a 3 year process of plan designs, permit rejections, and ‘back to the drawing’ board for Tom and Barb and Whole Water Systems. Morgan Brown, president of Whole Water Systems, refers to the wanderings and trials through the city and state permitting process, as an Odyssey.   The process at Desert Rain prompted  Morgan Brown, and ML Vidas, architect and Living Building consultant for Desert Rain to present a program at the 2013 Living Building unConference.  Their session highlighted  the lessons learned on the bleeding edge of green building as Desert Rain sought approvals for blackwater, graywater, and rainwater harvesting systems.  In Morgan’s words, Whole Water and Desert Rain owners and team members ‘share the objective of setting an example that expands sustainable limits, is worthy of emulation and is financially accessible.’  A big sigh of relief and hooray, for graywater and rainwater harvest approval. Next on the list  – the blackwater system that is still pending.

The challenges of the LBC water petal at Desert Rain.

The challenges of the LBC water petal at Desert Rain as presented by Morgan Brown and ML Vidas.

The plastering on the exterior walls is nearing completion as the final, colored coat is being applied. The ADU is finished after some tweaking with the color hue last week. The entire plaster story will be upcoming soon.  The plastic that has been covering the structures for months will be removed after the final curing – what an exciting day that will be!

DR plastic rolled up

Desert Rain’s exterior is exposed after months of being protected by plastic tenting pending the plaster curing process. The final, coat with color is underway.

 

plaster hue

The final color of the final coat of plaster has been applied to the accessory dwelling unit.

The Miro wall is nearly completed with the exception of an opening that will allow the landscapers to move equipment and materials around the site. The wall will provide privacy for the inner courtyard, a backdrop for a water feature, screening between Desert Rain and the ADU, and visual continuity from the exterior through the interior.

The Miro wall gracefully curves through the structure and emerges outside to enclose the courtyard.

The Miro wall gracefully curves through the structure and emerges outside to enclose the courtyard.

A slot in the Miro wall reveals the Serviceberry tree that was planted as a memorial to the ponderosa pine that was removed.

A slot in the Miro wall reveals the Serviceberry tree that was planted as a memorial to the ponderosa pine that was removed.

Inside Desert Rain the installation of the bathroom tiles is nearly completed and will soon be ready for grout. The recycled glass tiles cover a large portion of walls in the guestbath and the entire walk-in shower in the master bath. Doug Caihil, tiler, said there will be a few smaller, follow-up projects as other contractors complete their work.

tile m bath

The recycled glass tiles in the master bathroom shower cover a large portion of wall space.

Cabinet installation continues throughout the house. The Forest Stewardship Certified wood combined with the craftsmanship of Gabriel Dansky at Dansky Handcrafted, creates a dramatic impact in all the rooms. Watch for an upcoming story about the cabinet materials and process.

murphy bed cabinet

The custom work of the built-in ‘murphy’ bed cabinet reflects the beauty of the wood and the craftsmanship throughout the project.

office  tones

Elements coming together to create beauty and function; FSC wood cabinets, salvaged myrtlewood flooring, American Clay plaster, and reclaimed wood trim grace the future office/media room.

What’s next? Desert Lookout  is the final structure proposed for the site. It will contain a composting/evaporator system, a garage, and yoga/fitness studio on the ground level. A dwelling unit will be on the upper floor. The existing garage from the original dwelling on the site will be deconstructed to make room for the new structure. Materials will be salvaged and stored for future use in other projects. The design and plans for Desert Lookout are in the early stages of the process: application for the site and use plan has been submitted and is pending approval.

permit notice

Part pf the permit process for the proposed Desert Lookout is public notification. Here the notice is posted on the existing garaged that is slated for deconstruction.

The project continues to place great demands on Barb Scott and Tom Elliott. As owners, they have faced countless decisions, financial concerns, frustrations with timelines, scheduling, unknowns, and barriers – typical to any custom building project – magnified with Desert Rain and the demands of the Living Building Challenge. They have also realized success and elation as pieces of their extreme, green dream meet the challenge. Their persistence and patience is paving the way for the future of green building in Central Oregon and beyond. With the approval of the graywater system – the first in the state of Oregon – they indeed have much cause for celebration and hullabaloo.  Congratulations Barb and Tom and the Desert Rain team!

Tom and Barb deserve much appreciation for their pioneering spirit, persistence, and vision for breaking barriers with the Desert Rain project.

Tom and Barb deserve much appreciation for their pioneering spirit, persistence, and vision for breaking barriers with the Desert Rain project.

Holding Our Breath Over Water

Ask the question, ‘what has been the biggest challenge in the process of building Desert Rain?’  The answer you will receive in one word – WATER!  Building a home to meet the requirements of the Living Building Challenge’s Water Petal, means building ‘net zero’ water in terms of source. This translates to all water needs for domestic and irrigation purposes being met by the precipitation that falls on the site.  With annual rainfall in the Bend area at 11” or less annually, – water collection and harvesting is paramount to meeting the criteria.  All the roofs on the 5 different structures feed into the 35,000 gallon cistern. That stored water will be filtered through a variety of systems and used for all domestic purposes.  The other side of the water issue, known as ‘ecological water flow’, has proven to be more difficult.  All water that falls on the site must remain on the site. This includes storm water and discharged water, both graywater and blackwater.

Jim Fagan, General Contractor performing some ‘first-aid’ on a temporary drain. When the project is completed, all the gutters on all 5 structures will collect and send water to the 35,000 gallon cistern.

In a standard construction process the water and wastewater systems would have been part of the infrastructure in place prior to any building.  Desert Rain is nearing completion, yet a couple of major permits have not been approved by the City of Bend and the Oregon Department of Environmental Quality.  The project is pushing the regulatory envelope and has created a trail of plans, submissions, rejections, revisions, and re-submissions. The latest plan is a 600 square foot bio-constructed wetland that will purify the graywater and pump it to a holding tank for irrigation use.  The blackwater from toilets and the dishwasher will be processed through a composting system housed in a building that has been named Desert Throne.  Liquids in the composter will be evaporated with a solar powered, hot- air panel. Solids will compost and be mechanically removed about once a year.  This latest plan is pending. There is disagreement whether the city or the Oregon DEQ has the final say.   Tom said, ‘The process on the one hand has been difficult, on the other it has been educational for all parties. The bureaucracy that we have put in place to protect ourselves serves us and can also hinder us, depending on how you view it.’

Many of the systems designed for Desert Rain are far beyond the ordinary and out of the comfort level of current codes and regulations.  While doing their jobs, some people in the regulatory agencies are embracing the idea of change, others are resistant.  A simple altering of language sometimes makes the difference. Changing the name of a system in one instance brought immediate approval from the city – with a different name the process may have taken weeks.  In April 2012 the DEQ implemented  regulations to allow the resuse of graywater for irrigation.  Desert Rain’s graywater system is the first in the State of Oregon to actually be built, go through the whole process and receive approval.   Tom believes everybody will be watching closely to make sure it has been done right. He said, ‘Regulatory agencies have a responsibility.  They are accountable if they approve something that doesn’t work out.  Certainly this is modeling something.  We hope there will be many more graywater systems installed and rain water catchment systems. The next one will have a much easier path from a regulatory position. ‘

In the high desert climate of Bend, any snow melt or rainfall is crucial to recharging the water in the cistern.

The water and wastewater systems have been an ongoing struggle since the design process began. It has been frustrating and expensive causing delays and concern for the unknown. What if they say, ‘no’ to the current plan, to Desert Throne, the composter, and the evaporation system? The city code requires Desert Rain to be tied to the city water and sewer system for safety purposes. That system is in place and could be used.  The Living Building Challenge requires tha Desert Rain  process all wastewater on site and does not allow any wastewater or stormwater to leave the site via city systems. That is a very obvious conflict of requirements and poses a looming question about certification for the LBC Water Petal.  Barb Scott, co-owner with Tom Elliott, said,  ‘ This has been a tough and frustrating issue. We are holding our breath.’   Desert Rain has been and continues to be, a demonstration project for the future of the built environment.  Hopefully, the awareness created by pushing the regulatory envelope will bring change. Then breathing over water will become a little easier for all of us.

 

 

 

 

 

Flurries in the Forecast

The pour begins with Keith and Ian encouraging the wet mix down the chute. Logan was ‘in the hole’.

Earlier this week here in central Oregon, we had a few days of snow flurries. Yesterday was crisp, clear and warm. At the Desert Rain site there was a flurry of a different kind. The property was teeming with trucks and contractors with several different projects on the agenda.

When I arrived, Keith Krewson of Central Oregon Construction Contractors and his crew were awaiting the arrival of the Hooker Creek cement truck. Forms and bracing were in place for the pouring of the irrigation/graywater cistern. This 5,000 gallon cement tank is adjacent to the 35,000 gallon rainwater collection system. The large cistern is for all domestic water uses. The new, smaller tank will be used for irrigation water.   The tank spans the entire length of the south side of the previously built cistern, then wraps around the west wall part way. The two cisterns share a common wall. The hole for the cistern was excavated from lava rock. Concrete was poured into the void between the rock and the outside of the form to create a massive exterior wall. Keith and crew were working the concrete for the floor of the cistern at the same time. He had some concerns about the pressure against the forms – 80,000 pounds of concrete.

Keith, Ian, and Logan working their way around to the longer, south side wall.

The greatest difficulty seemed to be the tight working space. The bracing and re-bar in the narrow space presented  some tough obstacles but the crew persevered. The spirit of the Desert Rain team was evident when Mike Wagnon, the electrician, jumped in with a power cord that was needed for the cement vibrator. Mike told me that he used to work in concrete and it is a very stressful time during a big pour. With the exception of Keith dropping his phone in the wet mix, the process seemed to flow smoothly. Well done, Keith, Ian and Logan!

Ian, still smiling as the concrete pour nears completion.

 

 

 

 

Mike with  All Phase Electric Systems was continuing electrical installation work inside the main house. The entire lighting system for Desert Rain is LED. Part of what I love about my job is what I learn every time I talk with these contractors that know their trade well. Using a rough sketch on an exposed stud, Mike explained to me the main difference with LED installation, verses standard electrical. LED fixtures require a driver. The driver acts as a transformer converting the incoming 120V, AC power to the 24V or 12V DC power that the LED fixtures require. In some of the fixtures the driver is contained within the fixture. In other situations one driver may work for several fixtures. Though he has done many LED installations, Mike said he has never wired an entire residence for LED fixtures. The all LED lighting system at Desert Rain is quite extraordinary. Thank you, Mike for the LED lesson.

The Penofin Verde sustainable, penetrating oil was the color and consistency of clover honey.

Back outside, Rob Conrad owner of American Painting and his crew were hauling ladders and preparing to apply a penetrating stain on the FSC cedar lap siding. The original plan was to let the cedar ‘weather’ naturally. Kevin Lorda, project manager with Timberline Construction said, ‘there was some concern about the inconsistency in color tone that would be visible as the cedar weathered due to the different exposures. Moisture absorption may also become a problem.’  The decision was made to seal the cedar with Penofin Verde, a sustainable penetrating oil product. Rob showed me the thick, rich, honey consistency of the product. Rob and his crew were working with brushes, rollers, and paint pads depending on the space they had to work and the obstacles on the walls. The oil application had a dramatic effect on the wood deepening the natural color tones – beautiful and protective.

Rob Conrad, owner of American Painting and Wade, work on the south side of the ADU.

Cody with the American Painting crew, finishes up the south side of the ADU. Look at that rich, deep tone in the cedar!

 

Bill Bancroft and Dennis Gant with Versatile Carpentry were inside taking measurements for trim around all the interior door frames. Bill said the trim will be milled to specification from the reclaimed lumber that is being stored off site. Lumber was salvaged from the original two houses on site that were carefully deconstructed and also from a potato barn outside of Prineville. Some of that lumber has been used on the exterior soffits and will also be used on the interior ceilings. Versatile Carpentry crew framed the interior door openings and pocket doors.

The FSC cedar with sample of before and after sealing.

 

 

In this flurry of activity I am appreciative of the time these guys take to answer questions and educate me about the process of their various trades. Then I can share that knowledge here on the website.  Every one of the contractors I have encountered on the Desert Rain Team has been  helpful, informative, and friendly.  I feel most fortunate to have the opportunity to learn about and watch the process of Desert Rain unfolding.