Supervisors Pass Ordinance Requiring Onsite Water Recycling

The San Francisco Board of Supervisors unanimously passed an ordinance today to mandate the creation of onsite water-recycling systems in sizable new developments while also establishing a policy to clean and irrigate public spaces using recycled water.

Authored by Supervisor Scott Wiener, the eco-friendly ordinance aims to decrease the amount of drinking water that ends up in the city’s sewer system.

“The savings from these systems are real,” Wiener said today, explaining that by using these water-recycling systems, a new 500,000-square-foot building would be able to reduce water use by an estimated two million gallons per year.

The ordinance will apply to new developments of 250,000 or more square feet.

According to the San Francisco Public Utilities Commission’s 2013-14 water resource report, on average, San Francisco residential and retail customers used 41 million gallons of water per day last year.

Instead of pulling clean drinking water from Hetch Hetchy Reservoir in Yosemite National Park for flushing toilets and watering plants, the ordinance sets the city on the path to using only recycled water for irrigation and cleaning of the city’s parks, streets, plazas and medians, within the next five years.

The water reuse systems will allow greywater to be cleaned and recycled for non-potable uses.

Other non-potable sources of water such as rainwater, stormwater, blackwater, and foundation drainage will also be captured and cycled through onsite recycling systems.

California’s water crisis “is not a temporary problem,” Wiener said, urging the board to take aggressive policy actions to conserve water and mandate the reuse systems citywide.

According to the SFPUC’s water resources report, from 2011 to 2014, California experienced the driest period on hydrologic record resulting in significantly lower than normal reservoir storage, snowpack, and reservoir inflows, which means Hetch Hetchy water is more precious than possibly ever before.

Under the ordinance, all developments that are 40,000 square feet or larger will have to go through a water reuse analysis with the San Francisco Public Utilities Commission.

Within two years from the final passage of this ordinance, city departments will have to report back on the feasibility of the requirements and announce what resources they will need to implement these policies.

The passage of this ordinance makes San Francisco the first city in the nation to require building developments to install recycled water systems, according to Wiener.

Hannah Albarazi, Bay City News

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  • High five to the SFPUC for being a front runner in water reuse in CA, specifically as a water agency with a lot of cultural capital amongst other state agencies. You have experimented with programs and produced useful reports full of stats on the local on-site water sources – rainwater (therefore little stormwater) and graywater, You have worked steadily on this road for a long time with various fits and starts, and many valuable players. Congratulations!

    And may many CA cities and counties, and oh yes, even the state, use your code as a model for themselves sooner rather than later.

    Just one correction for Ms. Albarazi – Tucson, AZ passed building codes in 2008 requiring the inclusion of rainwater and graywater in new construction. So, SF is close, but not the first in the nation.

  • One other note that the name of the water source is the Tuolumne River, captured within the Hetch Hetchy Reservoir. There is an actual river come out of taps in SF and Silicon Valley. It is important to cite the actual water source.