California faces growing water scarcity concerns. Droughts pose continuous uncertainties to the water supply, but on-site water recycling could help alleviate the pressures of these uncertainties. On-site water recycling could contribute to increased water supply reliability as well as other environmental goals, such as reduced greenhouse gas emissions.
On-site water recycling systems are primarily one of two technology types - constructed wetlands or membrane bioreactors (MBR). For more information on these technologies, please refer to the Alliance’s report, “On-Site Water Generation: An Analysis of Options and Case Study” published December 2012.
The 2012 Alliance study found that on-site recycled water systems can supply water at lower energy intensity than imported water and desalination in Southern California. Nevertheless, most of the existing applications of recycled water are municipal-level wastewater treatment plants. On-site water recycling systems draw wastewater directly from a building’s toilets, showers, and laundry, treat it on-site, and reuse it to meet on-site non-potable needs, such as toilet flushing and irrigation. Installing these systems requires developers to not only manage the initial capital cost, but to confront a challenging regulatory environment. On-site water recycling is a relatively new concept and doesn’t fit neatly into existing regulatory frameworks focused on water-recycling and water- and waste-water treatment. Figuring out how to apply existing regulations – and understanding if the existing frameworks even apply – can be challenging for project developers as well as for those charged with preserving public health and safety. New regulatory frameworks must be developed to enable the installation of these systems.
As a follow-up to the 2012 Alliance Huntington Beach Study, the Alliance investigated further to verify the list of key regulatory hurdles for on-site water recycling and to identify potential solutions. A game-changer like revising the regulatory framework may take considerable time and resources, but the Alliance aims to also present good first steps. These are meant to be easier to implement in the short-term to generate momentum for those goals that are harder to achieve.
To first create awareness regarding the regulatory hurdles facing on-site water recycling system installations, the Alliance has released a new study entitled California On-Site Water Recycling: Policy Brief. This study documents the barriers to on-site water recycling systems and also and presents potential solutions. The policy brief focuses on the following barriers:
- Lack of clear information about how to apply for permits;
- Expensive daily coliform laboratory sampling and analysis
- Stringent certification requirements for system operators
Key study conclusions include:
· On-site recycled water systems are an emerging technology with the potential to play a role in helping manage California’s increasing water scarcity.
· Immediate actions should be taken to perform additional work on understanding potential regulatory models, estimating benefits, and initiating pilot activity.
· An information portal should be designed so that potential developers of on-site water recycling systems and staff at key agencies have access to detailed information.
· One stretch goal to work towards is an exception to the Title 22 requirement for daily coliform sampling for on-site water recycling systems with a track-record of high water quality.
The study also highlights a number of case studies as examples of on-site water recycling. Download the full report for more details.