San Francisco, water demand managment experts

San Francisco embraces wastewater for bright future

In San Francisco, all water is seen to be of value; as little as possible should be wasted. So much so that, in 2012, San Francisco became the first municipality in the country to adopt groundbreaking legislation to allow onsite non-potable water systems.

Tapping from alternative water sources

The Non-potable Water Ordinance allows for the use of alternative water sources like rainwater, greywater, stormwater, foundation drainage, and blackwater. Soon, they developed the Non-potable Water Programme. This provides the design and development community with a streamlined permitting process to develop such projects on building sites.

The San Francisco Public Utilities Commission (SFPUC) collaborates with city partners including the San Francisco Department of Public Health, Department of Building Inspection and Public Works Department to provide oversight and management of the use of treated non-potable water (water that is not clean enough to drink). In this way they ensure that the public health is not endangered.

“These onsite non-potable water systems are transforming the way we live and do business in San Francisco”, says Steven R. Ritchie, SFPUC Assistant General Manager, Water. He says they are pioneering new ways to collect and treat water for reuse within buildings and neighborhoods. “We recognise the opportunity to build upon our centralised water infrastructure by integrating smaller, onsite water treatment systems to produce water fit for toilet flushing and irrigation. This approach not only matches the right resource to the right use, but helps us stretch our drinking water supplies.”

Always upwards and onwards

Since 2012, the programme has expanded to allow for district-scale projects. Now, two or more parcels of land can share alternative, treated water sources. In 2015, the programme became a mandatory requirement for new commercial, mixed-use, and multi-family development projects over 23 225 m².

Today, recycling water is integral to a reliable, long-term water supply to the city. Wastewater is now an essential part of the resources mix that the city relies on. Others include water supply diversification, water transfers and water conservation.


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