New homes in Tucson will still require gray-water systems to be installed - for now.

The City Council voted unanimously Tuesday afternoon to direct the staff to explore all options in regard to water conservation and to return with its results in 90 days.

The staff recently recommended the council scrap the 2008 gray-water ordinance, which mandated that new construction within the city include plumbing so homeowners could connect a separate treatment, irrigation and storage system to water their lawns and gardens with used bath and washing machine water, if they desire.

The problem, according to Development Services Director Ernie Duarte, is that the ordinance adds $600 to $1,000 to the price of a new house for a feature nobody seems to want.

Duarte said more than 800 homes have been built since the ordinance took effect and not one homeowner has taken out a permit to construct the additional gray-water system, which can cost upwards of $1,000 or more.

Councilman Paul Cunningham said the ordinance was crafted with the future in mind.

"CAP (water) isn't going to last forever. We're not going to have the Colorado River forever," Cunningham said.

"We don't know what our water's going to be, and we need to have every tool in the shed to be able to conserve water long-term," he said. "By having homes built now fitted with pipes so they can easily transition into gray-water harvesting ... allows us another avenue ... for water sustainability into the next century."

Pre-fitted homes can also save homeowners money, since retrofitting a home can cost between $3,000 to $4,000, Cunningham noted.

He said the reason no one has taken out a permit yet is that backflow requirements and other issues have made installing a complete system cost-prohibitive.

But he said those can be worked out with some "tweaking."

Councilman Steve Kozachik said the market has spoken. He called the gray-water ordinance a thinly disguised tax on the housing industry.

"This is a $1 million tax with zero return," Kozachik said. "I am hoping we can come up with something a little more effective."

Proponents say gray water can save about 13,000 gallons of water per home annually.

But critics point to a statistic from the National Association of Home Builders that shows for every $1,000 increase in the price of a home, more than 700 households are priced out of the homebuying market.

Cunningham said he does not believe that a few pipes added to a new home can make a considerable impact on a potential sale.

"You're going to have a tough time convincing me that a $500 pipe on a $150,000 project is going to affect the viability of the project," he said.

Contact reporter Darren DaRonco at 573-4243 or