California approves rules for implementing direct potable reuse

California water

The California State Water Resources Control Board voted on Tuesday to approve new regulations that will pave the way for direct potable reuse in the state. The WateReuse Association said in a press release the announcement comes following years of research, collaboration and public engagement on the issue.

Direct potable reuse is a practice that uses multiple phases of advanced water treatment technology to treat recycled wastewater to safe, purified drinking water. In direct potable reuse, the treated recycled water is released directly into a drinking water system. “Indirect potable reuse” is a process that is more common and involves the injection of treated wastewater into bodies of water such as lakes or aquifers, acting as a buffer, before its use by a public water system. The use of direct potable reuse in the sector has often been marred by the “toilet-to-tap” misnomer that has turned off elected officials to the process.

“Today heralds a new era of water reuse, making it possible for more communities across California to benefit from an abundant, safe, resilient, and local water supply, and serving as an example to other states” said Patricia Sinicropi, WateReuse Association executive director.

California is a pioneer in purifying recycled water for use in drinking systems, says the WateReuse Association. In the 1960s, the Montebello Forebay Ground Water Recharge Project in Los Angeles made history by recharging a drinking water aquifer with purified recycled water. Communities across the state now use purified water to recharge groundwater, reservoirs and rivers using indirect potable reuse. With this week’s news, California becomes the second U.S. state, after Colorado, to approve the use of direct potable reuse. 

The regulations approved this week will create additional flexibility by allowing advanced purified water to be added directly into drinking water systems where it isn’t feasible to first blend it into a larger body.

According to a report in The Hill, the expansion of direct potable reuse will not happen overnight. The regulations must first be accepted by California’s Office of Administrative Law, which is not expected to happen until as late as fall of 2024. At that point, utilities could begin to implement direct potable reuse but it will likely take several years before these complex projects start to come online.

“WateReuse California commends the State Water Board on adopting regulations that protect public health while providing a vital new tool for California’s sustainable water future,” said David Pedersen, General Manager of the Las Virgenes Municipal Water District and President of WateReuse California. “WateReuse California has collaborated with the Water Board and countless stakeholders for over a decade to reach this important milestone.”

“These new regulations are a tremendous step forward as we develop Pure Water Southern California, which will be one of the largest recycled water facilities in the world and benefit 19 million people in our service area,” added Deven Upadhyay, executive officer of the Metropolitan Water District of Southern California and Vice President of the WateReuse Association. “Pursuing direct potable reuse for a portion of the supplies produced at our Pure Water facility will allow us to better manage the weather extremes we face from a changing climate. We applaud the state board for developing this new resource, while making public health the top priority.” 

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