Decentralized water recycling

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When we think about modernizing infrastructure, we can’t forget about water systems — the true “plumbing of plumbing” we often ignore. The same challenges to upgrading our built environment apply:

  • We need to start thinking about desired systems early in the design process, IN ADDITION TO ongoing after project completion
  • There are multiple regulatory hurdles to overcome, compounded over time and controlled by different agencies
  • Physical constraints of existing systems can’t be ignored — for example, our existing pipe systems require certain fluid dynamics parameters to even function
  • Value accrues to different entities at different times, at varied levels of incentive

Overcoming the Challenges of Small-Scale Water Recycling

Author: Tara Lohan



Up until now, a lack of health and safety regulations at the national and state levels has made the permitting process tricky and slow going. But bottom-up pressure may help create needed regulations.
San Francisco Public Utilities Commission (SFPUC), the local water utility, started a voluntary program in 2012 to provide expertise and funding for builders that wanted to incorporate onsite nonpotable reuse into new construction projects.
In 2015, the city moved to mandate that new construction over 250,000 square ft collects and treats rainwater, gray water (wastewater from bathroom sinks, showers and washing machines) or foundation drainage for uses such as toilet flushing and irrigation.
But for communities that do want to move forward to enable and encourage onsite reuse, it can be a regulatory slog. “It takes time and it involves interagency coordination,” said Kehoe.
“We don’t do nearly enough water recycling in California, honestly, it’s embarrassing how far behind we are compared to Australia, Israel and other places with very arid environments,” said Wiener. “We have a long-term structural water shortage and we need to modernize our water system and drag it out of the 1850s. Water recycling is a critical aspect of modernizing our water system.”