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California is Empowering Communities to Collect, Treat and Reuse Water Onsite

In the absence of guidance from the State, communities have shied away from non-potable onsite reuse projects. SB 966 will help change this, and perhaps more importantly, it is an acknowledgement that water once used need not go down the drain.

Authored by Paula Kehoe (SFPUC) and Mary Ann Dickinson (A4WE), long time partners, (two of many) champions behind passage of SB 966, and winners of IH2O’s inaugural CA Water Policy Challenge.

A summer day in Sacramento, CA. Most of the water used to flush toilets and on landscaping is good enough to drink.

On September 28, 2018 Governor Jerry Brown signed into law Senate Bill 966 directing the State Water Resources Control Board to develop risk-based water quality standards for onsite non-potable water systems. It aims to create consistent water quality standards state-wide, and to provide guidance to communities interested in implementing permitting and oversight programs for onsite non-potable systems.

These systems collect, treat and reuse water onsite for non-potable needs such as irrigation, toilet flushing, and cooling. Non-potable water is not suitable for human consumption, but can be used for other purposes. Graphic courtesy of the William J. Worthen Foundation and Urban Fabrick.

This victory of the passage of this law is especially sweet given that this issue took the top prize in Imagine H2O’s California Water Policy Challenge in 2016.

The proposal argued that the absence of a comprehensive statewide policy governing onsite non-potable water systems was a barrier to the deployment of reuse technologies. Without a state policy and guidance on what the appropriate water quality standards are, jurisdictions have been reluctant to permit these systems when proposed at the local level.

So why do we care about this?

We want to change the traditional water management approach of water in, waste out. Onsite non-potable water systems allow us to think differently about resource management. They are an example of utilizing technology to optimize our finite water resources and exemplify a OneWater approach to water resources management. And since the treatment technology is already available to do this, is technically feasible, and safe for public health, we should be allowing these “fit-for-purpose” onsite water treatment systems to be approved and installed with proper oversight and management.

Onsite non-potable reuse system in San Francisco at 38 Dolores St. Image Courtesy of BAR Architect.

Now all that will change. California will soon have a policy that will provide the appropriate risk-based water quality standards that are needed to move these systems into widespread implementation.

SFPUC’s Onsite Reuse Handbook

Thanks for this achievement are owed primarily to the work of the San Francisco Public Utilities Commission — which had already developed a Blueprint for Onsite Water Systems in 2015 for local agencies who want to permit these systems despite limited federal or state guidance. SFPUC further developed national consensus among industry experts, public health agencies, and water and wastewater utilities that served as guidance for the enabling state policy. Subsequently, that consensus led to the development of the Model State Regulation for Onsite Non-potable Water Systems. The model state regulation is meant to help states and local jurisdictions establish standards for treatment performance and monitoring and reporting requirements for onsite non-potable water systems. This Model State Regulation was discussed in three stakeholder workshops run by AWE as part of the Imagine H2O California Water Policy Challenge project.

California State Senator Wiener and Caitrin Chappelle, Assoc. Director of the PPIC Water Policy Center at the Imagine H2O and Milken Institute Water Policy Summit in 2017

Thanks are also owed to the leadership of Senator Scott Wiener, who introduced SB 966 in partnership with the SFPUC. This new law will make the necessary state policy happen to encourage innovation in onsite water treatment. And thanks are owed finally to Imagine H2O for recognizing this issue with the first prize in its inaugural California Water Policy Challenge competition!

The state has until December 1, 2022 to develop the standards.

Big thanks and congratulations to San Francisco Public Utilities Commission (SFPUC) and the Alliance for Water Efficiency (AWE) for a victory well-earned. Paula and Mary Ann can be reached at /

The Water Reuse Summit is being held this Monday in San Francisco.

Partners include: The William J. Worthen Foundation, USGBC NCC, AIA SF, and the San Francisco Public Utilities Commission



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