NEWS WORTH NOTING: State Water Board updates recycled water policy; San Francisco to save more than 500 million gallons due to SFPUC-led conservation efforts; Metropolitan approves drought contingency plan for Colorado River

State Water Board Updates Policy to Encourage Recycled Water Use as Resource to Address Effects of Climate Change

From the State Water Resources Control Board:

The State Water Board voted today to update its policy for recycled water, a move that promises to streamline the process for recycled water projects in the years to come.

The newly amended Policy for Water Quality Control for Recycled Water (Recycled Water Policy) sets statewide goals for recycled water use and makes good on the State Water Board’s pledge to encourage the development of underutilized water resources to address the effects of climate change, drought and water supply uncertainty.

Recycled water is considered water that, as a result of treatment, is suitable for a beneficial use or a controlled use such as groundwater replenishment or irrigation, that would otherwise not occur.

The updated Policy sets statewide goals for increasing recycled water by encouraging its use in areas where wastewater is currently discharged to saline water bodies and in areas where groundwater supplies are threatened.

In crafting the updated Policy, an expert advisory panel was convened to develop recommendations for constituents of emerging concern (CECs) – essentially, a broad range of chemicals that are typically not well-monitored and are not regulated from a water quality perspective. CECs include chemicals in personal care products; pharmaceuticals; industrial, agricultural and household chemicals; hormones; and others. The Panel used a conservative approach to evaluate the potential for CECs to be present in recycled water and recommended monitoring for CECs in potable recycled water. In their report, the Panel stated that they “cannot stress strongly enough that the outcome of the 2018 application of the risk-based framework clearly points to the safety of potable and non-potable reuse practices in California.”

“This policy sets out how to issue a permit for a recycled water project while protecting public health and the environment,” said Laura McLellan, a senior environmental scientist in the Division of Water Quality. “It provides confidence in the safety of recycled water by including the panel’s recommendations for monitoring and making sure permits are issued consistently statewide.”

The state’s Recycled Water Policy dates to 2009 and was first amended in 2013 to provide direction on monitoring requirements for CECs in recycled water used to recharge groundwater. In the past five years, there have been significant developments in the research and regulation of recycled water, including reservoir augmentation (placing recycled water in a reservoir used as a source of drinking water).

This policy does not address direct potable reuse of recycled water. The State Water Board’s Division of Drinking Water is working with scientific experts on establishing regulations that would allow recycled water to be used for raw water augmentation, where recycled water is placed into a system of pipelines or aqueducts that deliver water to a drinking water treatment plant. The deadline for those regulations is 2023.

Prior to drafting a final version of the updated Policy, there were two periods for public comment and numerous public meetings to receive input on proposed updates to the Policy.

For more details about the Policy, click here.

Key Details

  • Policy for Water Quality Control for Recycled Water was first drafted in 2009 and amended in 2013
  • Recycled water is water that is deemed suitable for a beneficial use after treatment
  • An expert advisory panel made recommendations for monitoring constituents of emerging concern that were incorporated into the Policy
  • One element of the Policy is to set statewide goals to maximize recycled water use where groundwater supplies are in overdraft and where water wastewater would otherwise be discharged to the ocean.

New Report Shows that San Francisco Will Save More than 500 Million Gallons of Water due to SFPUC-Led Conservation Efforts

Annual Report Highlights Projected Savings Over Next 30 Years, Along With Efforts to Diversify City’s Water Supply

Water conservation programs and services offered by the San Francisco Public Utilities Commission (SFPUC) last fiscal year will result in savings of more than 500 million gallons of water over the next 30 years, according to the agency’s annual Water Resources Division report. The report, which was released today at the SFPUC Commission meeting, highlights the agency’s decades-long commitment to water conservation practices.

“The SFPUC has become a national leader in advancing sustainable and responsible water usage practices,” said SFPUC General Manager Harlan L. Kelly, Jr. “We know that conservation is a way of life now in California, and we are advancing every effort to be at the forefront on this critical issue.”

Through various efficiency programs, the SFPUC estimates that its retail customers will save 516 million gallons during the next 30 years. That is equal to the annual water supply of 9,425 homes.

The SFPUC’s Water Resources Division is responsible for the implementation of the agency’s water conservation programs, as well as the development of local water supplies, including groundwater, recycled water and non-potable water programs.

The annual report details the following SFPUC accomplishments:

  • Conservation assistance programs and public education efforts that have led to San Francisco residents using 42 gallons of water per person, per day, one of the lowest consumption rates in California.
  • Construction of a recycled water plant that will be used irrigate more than 1,000 acres of green space, including the Golden Gate Park, Lincoln Park and Presidio golf courses.
  • Construction of four groundwater wells to draw water from San Francisco’s Westside Basin.
  • Continued management of the City’s pioneering non-potable water program, which requires all new developments over 250,000 square feet to treat water onsite to meet irrigation and bathroom demands, helping to reduce potable water usage.
  • Expansion of a grant program to encourage additional non-potable water treatment and reuse practices in breweries and smaller buildings.
  • Additional research on treating recycled water to meet drinking water standards, including a pilot project at the SFPUC headquarters.

“In this age of climate change uncertainty, it is essential that the SFPUC diversifies its supply to maintain water reliability for our customers,” said Paula Kehoe, SFPUC Director of Water Resources. “We are implementing innovative new practices in recycled water, groundwater and non-potable water systems that will provide new operational flexibility for our agency. By being proactive in our approach, we are ensuring that our water system in resilient and ready for whatever challenges we may face in the future.”

The collective efforts of the SFPUC’s Water Resources Division reflects the unit’s new OneWaterSF framework, which shifts planning focuses into a more holistic approach. Every undertaking will consider the impacts of one water source on another, and the connections and potential impacts within those system operations.

“The SFPUC is committed to both protecting the environment and making sure we have enough water for our customers,” said SFPUC Commissioner Francesca Vietor. “As the climate changes and we see longer periods of drought and heavier storms, water conservation and reuse will ensure that we maintain both a healthy ecosystem for our fish and adequate water supplies for our customers.”

A full copy of the Water Resources Division’s annual report, which was released at today’s SFPUC Commission meeting, can be found here.

For information about the SFPUC’s conservation assistance programs, including free toilets and water-saving devices, clothes washer rebates, and water-wise evaluations, visit

About the San Francisco Public Utilities Commission

The San Francisco Public Utilities Commission (SFPUC) is a department of the City and County of San Francisco. It delivers drinking water to 2.7 million people in the San Francisco Bay Area, collects and treats wastewater for the City and County of San Francisco, and generates clean power for municipal buildings, residents, and businesses. The SFPUC’s mission is to provide customers with high quality, efficient and reliable water, power, and sewer services in a manner that values environmental and community interests and sustains the resources entrusted to our care. Learn more at

Metropolitan Board approves drought contingency plan to keep Colorado River supplies flowing to Southern California

From Metropolitan Water District:

Facing the impending threat of Colorado River reservoirs reaching critically low levels, the board of directors of the Metropolitan Water District today approved a sweeping plan among seven states to ensure the river will continue to provide a reliable supply of water to Southern California and the Southwest in the coming decade.

The Colorado River is a crucial supply for cities and farms across the Southwest, providing about 25 percent of the water used in the Southland. Nearly 20 years of drought, climate change and growing demands have caused river flows and storage levels in the system’s two largest reservoirs – Lake Mead and Lake Powell – to drop dramatically.

The Drought Contingency Plan approved today by Metropolitan is an effort by the basin states that rely on the river to keep the reservoirs from reaching critically low levels that would trigger severe delivery cuts, threaten power generation at Hoover and Parker dams, and prevent Metropolitan from accessing conserved water it has stored in Lake Mead.

“Without action, it is not a matter of if, but when Lake Mead will drop so low that all its users will be harmed,” board Chairman Randy Record said. “We simply can’t allow that to happen. This supply is too important to the people, farms and businesses of Southern California and the nation. We have been working for more than three years across sectors and states to negotiate this solution.”

Under the plan, which still needs approval from several agencies and Congress, the Lower Colorado River Basin states of California, Arizona and Nevada agree to store defined volumes of water in Lake Mead, largely through conservation, if the lake reaches certain levels.

California would make storage contributions if Lake Mead’s elevation drops to 1,045 feet above sea level, 33 feet below its current level of 1,078. Those contributions – 200,000-350,000 acre-feet a year – would be shared by Metropolitan, Palo Verde Irrigation District, Imperial Irrigation District and Coachella Valley Water District.

Arizona and Nevada, which have lower priority rights to Colorado River water, would begin making storage contributions immediately. If Lake Mead’s level recovers, much of the storage contributions would be returned to each agency. (An acre foot of water is nearly 326,000 gallons, about the amount used by three typical Southern California households a year.)

For the Upper Colorado River Basin states of Wyoming, Colorado, Utah and New Mexico, the DCP establishes tools already used in the Lower Basin, including water banking and reservoir management, to maintain higher levels in Lake Powell.

The DCP builds on a 2007 agreement, negotiated when the Colorado River was in its seventh year of drought, which attempted to address declining Mead and Powell reservoir levels.

The drought has since stretched into its 18th year, and conditions have deteriorated far more than anticipated in 2007. According to the Bureau of Reclamation, the risk of Lake Mead reaching critically low elevations has increased from 10 percent then to more than 45 percent today, requiring the additional actions.

Still, the DCP and the 2007 agreement do not solve all the challenges on the Colorado River, explained Metropolitan General Manager Jeffrey Kightlinger. In effect through 2026, the DCP is a bridge solution that allows the seven Basin states and Mexico, which also relies on Colorado River water, to negotiate long-term management of the river.

“This is a tourniquet. It is a very proactive approach that buys us about a decade. But climate change is exacerbating the existing problems of drought and overuse in the Lower Basin. Increased temperatures, decreased snowfall and reduced run-off – those challenges are only getting worse,” Kightlinger said. “We have 40 million people, 5 million acres of farmland and diverse ecosystems that are relying on the success of this river. The real work is just beginning.”

In addition to Metropolitan, the DCP has already been approved by Wyoming, Colorado, New Mexico, Utah and necessary agencies in Nevada. It still needs approval from Arizona, Congress and several other water agencies.

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About News Worth Noting:  News Worth Noting is a collection of press releases, media statements, and other materials produced by federal, state, and local government agencies, water agencies, and academic institutions, as well as non-profit and advocacy organizations.  News Worth Noting also includes relevant legislator statements and environmental policy and legal analyses that are publicly released by law firms.  If your agency or organization has an item you would like included here, please email it to Maven.

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