Rules & Regs - January 2022

Cities are one of the last places you might expect onsite wastewater recycling, but in late September the San Francisco Board of Supervisors voted to expand the recycling required of buildings in the city. 

Since 2012, buildings of at least 250,000 square feet have been required to treat some graywater (showers and bathroom sinks) and reuse it to flush toilets and irrigate plants, report San Francisco news media. The new rule lowers the recycling threshold to 100,000 square feet. Large commercial developments will also have to expand influent to include wastewater from kitchen sinks and toilets. 

Residential complexes will have to collect condensate from heating and cooling systems and use that in laundry rooms. Affordable housing is exempt from this rule. 

When constructed a few years ago, Salesforce Tower, the city’s tallest building and headquarters of the customer relationship software company Salesforce, included a full wastewater recycling system. Effluent is for non-potable use: flushing toilets, irrigating plants and running cooling towers. Recycled water replaces about 30,000 gallons of fresh water per day for the building. 

All the new rules take effect this month. And all of this happens as California faces the prospect of water shortages driven by climate change. Gov. Gavin Newsom last fall approved a $5.2 billion plan that will invest in short-term drought response and long-term water resilience. There is money for water and wastewater infrastructure with a focus on small and disadvantaged communities.


A town’s challenge to a lawsuit predicts widespread problems for onsite system owners if its opponent prevails in the case. 

Earlier this year, the Conservation Law Foundation filed suit against the town of Barnstable on Cape Cod and its plan for a wastewater treatment plant. The foundation claims the state permit for the plant allows for too much nitrogen discharge, which ultimately travels through groundwater and feeds algae blooms in Lewis Bay. The foundation asked a federal judge to require a stronger NPDES permit from the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency.

In a response, the town said effluent from its plant requires about 21 years to reach the bay. A 2020 Supreme Court decision found effluent discharged into groundwater can be the equivalent of direct surface discharge, depending on the circumstances. Because of this ruling, the town wrote, if the foundation prevails in the case, homeowners, businesses and other owners of onsite systems would either have to shut down those systems or obtain Clean Water Act permits to continue operation. 


As part of a $114 million program to improve water quality, the state last fall recommended that Orange County receive a $41 million grant for wastewater treatment. According to the county government, money may be used for upgrading standard septic systems to include nutrient removal technology, to provide advanced wastewater treatment or to replace onsite systems with municipal sewer. 


Communities in the southeastern part of the state will receive more than $11.2 million in funding to improve wastewater and water infrastructure. In Athens, Jefferson, Lawrence and Pike counties, local health departments will receive $150,000 for the repair or replacement of onsite systems, reported the Pike County News Watchman. The loans are eligible for forgiveness of the principal. 

Washington state

Starting last fall, every county in the state was eligible for the Regional On-Site Sewage System Loan Program. Although the program was established in 2016, the last 17 counties were only recently added. Under the program, residents may obtain financing for the repair or replacement of failing onsite systems. The program finances the full cost of a system and does not require upfront costs. 

Owner-occupied homes are the primary targets although commercial properties and homes not occupied by owners may also qualify. The loan program is a partnership among the state Ecology Department, Health Department, and Craft3, a nonprofit community lender.


People with a failing onsite system in the Lampasas River watershed may be eligible for a grant to pay up to 100% of the cost of a replacement. Federal money will pay for about 15 systems within the watershed, with a maximum payment of $8,000 for each system, according to AgriLife Today from Texas A&M University. The watershed covers parts of Mills, Hamilton, Lampasas, Coryell, Burnet, Bell and Williamson counties.

Money comes from Clean Water Act grants for non-point sources, and the program is being coordinated by the Lampasas River Watershed Partnership. More information is available online at Priority will be given to failing systems within 2,000 feet of an affected waterbody.  


Comments on this site are submitted by users and are not endorsed by nor do they reflect the views or opinions of COLE Publishing, Inc. Comments are moderated before being posted.