On-Site Water Recycling Policy Brief

California continues to face various challenges in reliably meeting its demand for water. As population increases and the aging water infrastructure becomes less efficient, drought and water scarcity remain long-term concerns. Water recycling is thereby emphasized in California policies and mandates as one way to alleviate some of the uncertainties in the future water supply. A 2012 Alliance Huntington Beach study found that on-site recycled water systems can supply water at lower energy intensity than imported water and desalination in Southern California. Such on-site technologies can be a good fit for developers interested in reducing the water consumption of new commercial and municipal buildings. In addition, the customization options of the systems are appealing, and the cost is incremental as compared to larger municipal water recycling and desalination efforts.

Nevertheless, on-site water recycling is a relatively new concept and doesn’t fit neatly into existing jurisdictions overseeing water-recycling and water- and waste-water treatment. Figuring out who has jurisdiction can be tricky for project developers as well as for those charged with preserving public health and safety. Still, the demand for non-potable water for uses like flushing toilets and irrigating landscapes could be met by recycled water, and frameworks have been developed to enable on-site water recycling to meet those needs.

In December 2013, the Alliance completed a study entitled California On-Site Water Recycling: Policy Brief that documents the barriers to implementing on-site water recycling systems and also presents potential solutions. The policy brief focuses on these 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.