By Glen Hansen

On February 3, 2009, the State Water Resources Control Board adopted its long-awaited Recycled Water Policy. The new policy is intended to support the Water Board’s strategic plan to increase sustainable local water supplies. The purpose of the new policy is to increase the beneficial use of recycled water from municipal wastewater sources in a manner that fully implements state and federal water quality laws. Pursuant to Water Code sections 13550 et seq., the Water Board declared: “[I]t is a waste and unreasonable use of water for water agencies not to use recycled water when recycled water of adequate quality is available and is not being put to beneficial use…”

As a part of the new recycled water policy, the Water Board adopted the following four goals for California:

  • Increase the use of recycled water over 2002 levels by at least one million acre-feet by 2020 and by at least two million acre-feet by 2030.
  • Increase the use of stormwater over use in 2007 by at least 500,000 acre-feet by 2020 and by at least one million acre-feet by 2030.
  • Increase the amount of water conserved in urban and industrial uses by comparison to 2007 by at least 20% by 2020.
  • Included in these goals is the substitution of as much recycled water for potable water as possible by 2030.

In the new policy, the Water Board also discussed several practical impacts of the greater use of recycled water in the state. Those impacts include the following:

First, instead of addressing groundwater salt and nutrient control issues solely through individual recycled water projects, the Water Board imposed a requirement that consistent salt and nutrient management plans be prepared for each basin and sub-basin in California. Such plans must include a significant stormwater use and recharge component.

Second, the Water Board discussed issues involving the permitting of landscape irrigation projects that use recycled water, including the control of incidental runoff of recycled water.

Third, the Water Board also addressed the site-specific approval of recycled water groundwater recharge projects. The Water Board emphasized that such projects must not lower the water quality within a groundwater basin.

Fourth, the Water Board further addressed chemicals of emerging concern, (“CEC”) knowledge of which is currently “incomplete.” The Water Board will soon convene a blue-ribbon advisory panel to report back within one year regarding actions involving CECs, as they relate to the use of recycled water.

The wide-ranging ramifications of using recycled water, coupled with the aggressive goals established by the Water Board for such future use in California, demonstrates that the new Recycled Water Policy will have a significant impact on land use activities within the state for many years to come.

Glen C. Hansen is a senior associate at Abbott & Kindermann, LLP. For questions relating to this article or any other California land use, real estate, environmental and/or planning issues contact Abbott & Kindermann, LLP at (916) 456-9595.

The information presented in this article should not be construed to be formal legal advice by Abbott & Kindermann, LLP, nor the formation of a lawyer/client relationship. Because of the changing nature of this area of the law and the importance of individual facts, readers are encouraged to seek independent counsel for advice regarding their individual legal issues.