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Developing a Statewide Policy for 
Decentralized Non-potable Water Systems

We have the opportunity to create a new water management paradigm by incorporating innovative strategies to conserve, reuse and diversify our water supply. One of those strategies is integrating smaller, decentralized, onsite water systems into our broader centralized systems. Onsite water systems can be tailored to the needs of the local community and implemented at a variety of scales, including building, block, district, and region with the appropriate safeguards in place. 

The San Francisco Public Utilities Commission (SFPUC) is partnering with Alliance for Water Efficiency (AWE) to address statewide policies for onsite water systems collecting and treating alternate waters sources (graywater, blackwater, rainwater, stormwater, and foundation drainage) in commercial, multi-family and mixed-use buildings in California. The policy will cover a number of guidelines, including water quality criteria and monitoring requirements, allowed alternate water sources and end uses, permitting and operational strategies.


Developers and designers are incorporating innovative onsite water systems into their projects, such as treating graywater for toilet flushing and using rainwater and stormwater for irrigation. The SFPUC has a local ordinance that allows for the collection and treatment of alternate water sources in buildings and districts in San Francisco. The SFPUC also prepared a Blueprint for Onsite Water Systems to assist communities with developing programs on the local level to manage onsite water systems to increase water resiliency and promote green building practices while protecting public health. 

However, there are no overarching national standards for water quality or required treatment of alternate water sources. The California Plumbing Code addresses water quality, construction, and signage requirements for graywater and rainwater. The code does not address other potential water sources, such as blackwater, stormwater, and foundation drainage.

The SFPUC is partnering with the National Water Research Institute (NWRI) on the Risk Based Approach for the Development of Public Health Standards for Decentralized Non-potable Water Systems report to develop recommendations for water quality criteria, monitoring, reporting, operations, end use applications, and permitting strategies for onsite water systems. NWRI has organized an expert panel which includes individuals with expertise in criteria setting, risk assessment, water treatment, microbiology, water quality, and regulations. Additionally, a stakeholder advisory committee comprised of 14 local, state, and federal public health officials from across North America will review and provide input on the research. The goal of the project is to establish recommendations that can be used by public officials in developing programs to manage and oversee decentralized non-potable water systems. The report will be made available September 2016 and is sponsored by Water Research Foundation, WateReuse Foundation, and Water Environment Research Foundation.

Policy Development

With the recommendations from the Risk Based Approach for the Development of Public Health Standards for Decentralized Non-potable Water Systems report, SFPUC will begin crafting a policy for California. Additionally, the draft policy will build on existing plumbing, public health, and building standards and codes in California. The draft policy will also include guidelines to address key implementation issues such as water quality criteria, monitoring and reporting, and permitting strategies. The draft policy will be shared with the State Water Resources Control Board, Building Standards Commission, and interested stakeholders. Information will be available at and
To learn more about the project, please contact Paula Kehoe at 415-554-0792. To be involved in the stakeholder outreach, please contact Mary Ann Dickinson at 773-360-5100.

Anticipated Project Schedule 2016-2017

June-September 2016 
  • Finalize Risk Based Approach for the Development of Public Health Standards for Decentralized Non-potable Water Systems report 

September-December 2016 

  • Draft Statewide Policy for Onsite Water Systems

January-June 2017 

  • Conduct stakeholder outreach in regional workshops in California
  • Prepare final policy and guidelines for consideration by California regulators