Senator Wiener Announces Bill to Expand On-Site Water Recycling in All California Cities

SB 966 requires the State Water Board to create water reuse standards in California, which will allow cities to implement local water reuse programs while still maintaining public health protections
February 1, 2018

Sacramento –  Today Senator Scott Wiener (D- San Francisco) announced a new bill, SB 966, to expand water recycling in California by developing statewide on-site water reuse regulations so local governments can increase water reuse across California. “On-site” means that the water recycling occurs in individual buildings, as opposed to utility-scale water recycling. Currently, due to a lack of state permitting standards, local governments are often stymied in creating local programs to expand the use of graywater, blackwater, rainwater, stormwater, foundation drainage and other reused water. SB 966 is co-authored by Assemblymember Cristina Garcia (D-Bell Gardens).

SB 966 allows local communities to create on-site water recycling programs. It does so by requiring that the State Water Resources Control Board (“State Water Board”) to issue comprehensive regulations, including health and safety standards, to help local jurisdictions implement these programs. The oversight and management of onsite treatment of water for non-potable use developed under this framework will be risk-based and focused on protecting public health. SB 966 is sponsored by the San Francisco Public Utilities Commission. This effort builds on a previous bill Senator Wiener introduced last year, which did not move forward, to expand water reuse. For the last year, Senator Wiener has been working with the State Water Board, advocates, and local environmental health agencies to strengthen the legislation.

“California has a structural water shortage, and water recycling is a key part of our state’s future,” said Senator Wiener. “California is so far behind on water recycling, and we must take aggressive steps to catch up. Yet, due to a lack of state standards on how to permit on-site water reuse systems, most cities don’t even have an on-site recycling program. SB 966 gives cities the tools they need to put water recycling programs in place, and the bill gives innovative water reuse businesses clear standards for designing new technologies. Climate change is already impacting our state, and we need action today to prepare for tomorrow’s drought.”

“San Francisco is proud to be working with Senator Wiener on this trailblazing legislation that will reduce regulatory uncertainty for onsite non-potable water systems,” said Harlan L. Kelly, Jr., General Manager of the San Francisco Public Utilities Commission. “This is particularly significant as onsite non-potable water reuse becomes an increasingly important strategy for communities to diversify their water supply portfolios and effectively deal with droughts.”

Developing water reuse programs is essential to lowering both public and private water usage in cities and counties. However, there are no statewide standards, such as health standards, for how rainwater, graywater, stormwater, blackwater and foundation drainage need to be treated and used for nonpotable purposes like irrigation and toilet flushing. While local jurisdictions can develop their own standards for non-potable use, the lack of a state standard creates inconsistencies across the state, as well as resistance to develop these standards. This vacuum impedes the expansion of water reuse programs and proper management of these treated alternate water sources.

Though California is not currently in a drought, recent reports indicate that California’s snowpack is currently at 30% of normal for the date. The record-low was in 2015, when the snowpack was at 25%. 

One-fifth of all energy used in California goes to pumping water, so increasing water reuse reduces pressure on the electric grid and air quality impacts.  Decentralized water reuse also helps communities whose piping infrastructure is so outdated that it would be infeasible to distribute water from certain parts of the city to a central recycling plant and back without a multi-billion dollar upgrade.  So, onsite water reuse can be a complement even in places with centralized water recycling.

“WateReuse California supports all types of water recycling including on-site reuse, which allows treated water to be reused in building for non-potable needs such as irrigation, toilet flushing and cooling,” said Jennifer West, Managing Director of WateReuse California. “Depending on the needs of the community, on-site reuse can significantly contribute to the development of local sustainable water supplies.”

“With a changing climate, California’s water invaluable water resources hang increasingly in the balance,” said Brenden McEneaney, Pacific Regional Director, the US Green Building Council. “A clear set of standards for putting nonpotable water to work for California is imperative for our resilience to future water shortages. USGBC strongly supports Senator Wiener’s proposal to help communities safely optimize local water resources.”