California Prepares for Direct Potable Reuse of Wastewater

A state bill aims to create standards for direct potable reuse by the end of 2021

California’s multiyear drought was officially declared over on April 7, but the Legislature is on the verge of making the state a pioneer in the direct reuse of wastewater for potable consumption.

A bill in the General Assembly would require the state Water Resources Control Board to formulate uniform state standards for potable reuse by Dec. 31, 2021. By June 1, 2018, the board would have to adopt a framework for the regulation of potable reuse projects.

AB 547 is sponsored by Rep. Bill Quirk (D-Hayward), who chairs the Legislature’s Environmental Safety and Toxic Materials Committee. According to a fact sheet prepared by committee staff, the bill has the support of 42 environmental groups, utilities and municipalities. Among them are the U.S. Green Building Council, the Metropolitan Water District of Southern California, and the California Association of Sanitation Agencies.

There are no regulations in the country governing direct potable reuse, and California will need to expand its use of recycled water in order to meet projected demand. A report on the issue to the Legislature by the water board says the state’s population is expected to increase from the current 39 million to about 50 million by the year 2049. The board’s report found only two direct potable reuse projects operating in the world, one in Namibia and the other in Texas.

While the Legislature is working on the bill, water board experts are working on concerns raised in the report, said board spokesman Andrew DiLuccia. Those include developing methods to monitor pathogens in raw wastewater and establish maximum counts for recycled water, and developing methods to identify unknown contaminants that may not be removed by advanced treatment.

As part of the response to the most recent drought, California Gov. Jerry Brown ordered a statewide cut of 25 percent in urban water use. 


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