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Home > Natural Resources > Water Strategies to Preserve Natural Resource Supplies and Quality

Managing Black, Brown and Greywater

Smart water management is getting smarter and more discriminating every day. From grey to black to brown water, and many shades between, our fresh water supply deserves an artist's palette to do justice to the amazing properties of fresh water.

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Watershed training in the maintenance of our natural, green infrastructure includes a hefty attention to water quality. Drinking water. Recycled water, and a host of water "colors". Topics such as green infrastructure, water harvesting, eco-sanitation, and watershed restoration all focus on protecting natural fresh water supplies and treating them for sanitary conditions.

Did you realize there is a whole rainbow of water colors?

While this could be amusing to some, to our communities, a new complexity of water management is being ushered in with concerns about brackish water, using potable water (drinking water) for sewage conveyance, and the desire for a growing number of people to recycle their slightly used water for irrigation, etc.

Let's take a quick look at the colors of water and what these new terms mean.


Grey refers to the non-sewage kind of residential or office sourced water from sinks, showers and drinking faucets.


Black refers to toilet waters - contaminated with sewage. Blackwater is a term dating to at least the 1970s used to describe wastewater containing fecal matter and urine. It is also known as brown water, foul water, or sewage.


Brown, red, orange, or yellow water is usually caused by rust, and can even be drinking water. Brown could also be a sign of contamination from "black" sewage water.

EPA calls the system of drains running through our streets and open spaces "Municipal Separate Storm Sewers" in the permit process. In the mid-Atlantic, they're generally called storm drains in Maryland, but storm sewers in Virginia.


Whatever you call them, these systems of freshwater drains are taking on more importance as contaminants are leaching and being dumped into our very limited fresh water supplies.

In California we protect storm drains because they lead to the ocean -- and we've finally realized that the ocean is habitat for thousands of species of plants and animals that are part of the web of life. We're also becoming aware of the plastic contaminants that are polluting our fresh and salt water supplies -- impacting the web of life that organically manufactures our global oxygen supply, and our fresh water cycle.

You will be hearing more about the colors of water in the coming months and years as the professionals sort out the true cost of processing natural water supplies, and tack the cost onto your water and utility bills.

As advocates of a healthy natural system of habitat for all living creatures, ourselves included, we can educate ourselves about the role of water in our daily lives. What we use it for - how we can conserve it, protect it, and put it to life supporting purposes.

It's truly a fascinating lifeblood flowing through our natural systems, and our "green infrastructure.

Edited by Carolyn Allen, owner/editor of California Green Solutions
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