Senator Wiener Announces Legislation to Strengthen California’s Water Recycling and Conservation Efforts

February 24, 2017

Today Senator Scott Wiener announced the introduction of two bills that will strengthen California’s water recycling and conservation efforts by developing statewide water reuse regulations and conservation-based landscaping design standards. Senate Bill 740 requires the establishment of a regulatory framework, including health standards, for non-potable water used in irrigation and toilet flushing, thus encouraging and helping local jurisdictions to develop local water reuse programs. Senate Bill 780 sets standards for landscape design based on best water conservation practices, and offers incentives to install these landscapes.

“We have a structural water shortage in California, and it isn't going away," said Senator Wiener. "We must aggressively modernize California's water system, which means a dramatic increase in water recycling and water efficiency. Though the recent drought is abating, we must adapt our water conservation practices so we are better prepared for the next one, which will surely come. These two bills will help us to expand water recycling, which must become part of our basic water infrastructure, and improve our irrigation and landscaping practices.”

SB 740 – Expanding Water Recycling in California

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, this creates inconsistencies across the state and resistance to develop these standards. This impedes the expansion of water reuse programs and proper management of these treated alternate water sources.

SB 740 requires that the State Water Resources Control Board adopt regulations for a comprehensive framework to assist local jurisdictions interested in developing water reuse 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 740 is sponsored by the San Francisco Public Utilities Commission. 

“This is an opportunity for California to lead and expand opportunities for water reuse across the state,” said Harlan L. Kelly, Jr., General Manager, San Francisco Public Utilities Commission. “We’re happy to be working with Senator Wiener on this important issue.”

SB 780 – Designing More Sustainable and Water-Efficient Landscaping and Lawns

Over half of all urban water use in California is dedicated to landscaping. Though many solutions and programs for efficient landscaping exist, there are areas that are not currently captured, including landscapes under 2,500 square feet or ones that do not require a permit. SB 780 targets these opportunities for water efficiency and sustainability upgrades.

SB 780 will set statewide standards for design and installation of landscapes based on a watershed approach, with water-efficiency a key factor. The four elements of watershed landscaping are:

  • Healthy, living soil
  • Rainwater retention and infiltration
  • Climate-appropriate plants
  • Highly efficient supplemental irrigation, when necessary

These standards can be applied to all landscapes, including lawns, but are not mandatory. The program, instead, includes incentives to promote water-efficient landscaping and lawns by requiring that all state-administered landscaping funding and incentive programs incorporate these standards in their guidelines, and providing a preference to entities that incorporate these standards in their projects in accessing locally-administered funding. SB 780 also promotes workforce benefits and education and training in these watershed practices so that California residents, and particularly young people, can access work opportunities.

SB 780 is supported by the Association of Professional Landscape Designers – California Chapter, the Green Gardens Group, the Surfrider Foundation, and the California Association of Local Conservation Corps. 

“Many people responded to the drought by turning off the irrigation and letting the lawn or garden go brown,” said Maureen Decombe, Sustainability Chair, Association of Professional Landscape Designers - California Chapter. “Now, with the rains, we are excited about bringing back a new kind of garden, which will resist drought and actually save water in the soil. Our goal is to help people all over California with this transition. These standards will give everyone in the state a set of tools to successfully turn their landscapes into thriving ecosystems that offer multiple benefits that make beautiful gardens not just pretty on the outside, but workhorses on the inside— to capture and retain available rainwater, nurture habitats for pollinators and birds, and draw atmospheric carbon into the soil— making us all a part of the solution to climate change and weather extremes.”

“Throughout the state, local conservation corps work on the ground providing job training and employment opportunities to California’s most disenfranchised and at-risk youth,” said Debra Gore-Mann, CEO, San Francisco Conservation Corps. “Corpsmembers complete projects, many times in the disadvantaged communities they themselves come from, that produce environmental and climate benefits. The San Francisco Conservation Corps corps members can be seen every day working to maintain the community’s resilience in the face of environmental threats by planting trees, converting lawns, cleaning gutters, and restoring habitats. We are excited to support this policy, and Senator Wiener’s focus on the critical need and link between conservation, urban landscapes, and job training. We hope to put many youth to work on projects that create better water conservation through more efficient and intentional design of California’s unique environment.”