Senator Wiener’s Bill to Help California Cities Expand On-Site Water Recycling Passes the Legislature

August 30, 2018

Sacramento –  Today Senator Scott Wiener (D-San Francisco)’s Senate Bill 966, to expand water recycling in California by developing statewide on-site water reuse regulations so local governments can increase water reuse across California, passed out of the Legislature. It passed with a 39-0 vote, and now goes to the Governor for his signature.

“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.

“California has a structural water shortage that we must address,” said Senator Wiener. “Water recycling should be part of our strategy in tackling our State’s water shortage. Yet, due to a lack of state standards on how to permit on-site water reuse systems, most cities don’t have on-site recycling programs. SB 966 gives cities the tools they need to put water recycling programs in place. It also gives innovative water reuse businesses clear standards for designing new technologies. California must take bold steps today to prepare for tomorrow’s drought. I am proud that as a Legislature we understand the importance of addressing this vital issue.” 

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 (SFPUC). 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. 

“San Francisco is proud to partner with Senator Wiener to create guidelines for communities across California that are working to diversify water supply portfolios,” said SFPUC General Manager Harlan L. Kelly, Jr. “This legislation will set the standard and make it easier to create and implement local on-site non-potable water system programs while protecting public health.”

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 non-potable 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.

“All Californians would agree about the need to use (and reuse) our water wisely,” said Cindy Clark Senior Water Director of Sustainable Silicon Valley. “SB 966 is a solid step in the right direction towards wise, safe and privately-funded onsite water reuse that can ease pressure on our aging centralized infrastructure.”

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.  As such, onsite water reuse can be a complement even in places with centralized water recycling.

SB 966 is co-authored by Senator Steven Glazer (D-Orinda), and Assemblymembers Cristina Garcia (D-Bell Gardens), Tom Lackey (R-Palmdale), and Blanca Rubio (D-Baldwin Park).  

SB 966 Text: