Water Boards Recycled Water Policy and Regulations
The Water Boards recognize the importance of recycled water as a critical water supply for California. Recycled water is a key resource for diversifying local supplies and improving the State's long-term water resilience. The Water Boards regulate the production and use of recycled water in a manner that protects public health and the environment. This page provides information on recycled water, announcements related to recycled water, and useful links to the State's Recycled Water Policy and regulations.
Quick Links for Recycled Water Policy and Regulations
Recycled Water Information and Resources:
“water which, as a result of treatment of waste, is suitable for a direct beneficial use or a controlled use that would not otherwise occur and is therefore considered a valuable resource”(Wat. Code § 13050(n))
Recycled water is primarily municipal sewage that has been treated in a wastewater facility and complies with recycled water regulations for a specific beneficial use, including uses related to public health. There are different levels of treatment for recycled water depending on how it will be used which are summarized below:
Recycled water from sources that contain domestic waste may be used for a variety of nonpotable applications in California including irrigation, impoundments, and industrial or commercial cooling. The allowable applications, required treatment, and use area requirements are defined in the Water Recycling Criteria, Title 22, Division 4, Chapter 3 of the California Code of Regulations. The regulations define four levels of treatment:
- Disinfected tertiary
- Disinfected secondary-2.2
- Disinfected secondary-23
- Undisinfected secondary
Water Code Section 13561 defines the following types of potable recycled water use:
- “Indirect Potable Reuse for groundwater recharge” means the planned use of recycled water for replenishment of a groundwater basin or an aquifer that has been designated as a source of water supply for a public water system, as defined in Section 116275 of the Health and Safety Code.
- “Reservoir water augmentation” means the planned placement of recycled water into a raw surface water reservoir used as a source of domestic drinking water supply for a public water system, as defined in Section 116275 of the Health and Safety Code, or into a constructed system conveying water to such a reservoir.
- “Direct Potable Reuse” means the planned introduction of recycled water either directly into a public water system, as defined in Section 116275 of the Health and Safety Code, or into a raw water supply immediately upstream of a water treatment plant. Direct potable reuse includes, but is not limited to, the following:
- “Raw water augmentation,” which means the planned placement of recycled water into a system of pipelines or aqueducts that deliver raw water to a drinking water treatment plant that provides water to a public water system, as defined in Section 116275 of the Health and Safety Code.
- “Treated drinking water augmentation,” means the planned placement of recycled water into the water distribution system of a public water system, as defined in Section 116275 of the Health and Safety Code.
The State Water Board is currently developing regulations for onsite treatment and reuse of nonpotable water. The regulations will address the onsite treatment of nonpotable water sources (graywater, rainwater, stormwater, blackwater) for nonpotable end uses (toilet and urinal flushing, clothes washing, irrigation, and dust suppression) in multifamily residential, commercial, and mixed-use buildings.
The Water Quality Control Policy for Recycled Water (Recycled Water Policy) encourages the safe use of recycled water from wastewater sources that meets the definition in California Water Code (Water Code) section 13050(n), in a manner that implements state and federal water quality laws and protects public health and the environment. The Recycled Water Policy provides direction to the regional water boards, proponents of recycled water projects, and the public regarding the methodology and appropriate water quality control criteria for the State Water Board and the regional water boards to use when issuing permits for recycled water projects.
The Uniform Statewide Recycling Criteria are contained in the California Code of Regulations, Title 22, Division 4, Chapter 3. The Uniform Statewide Recycling Criteria address each type of recycled water use where the use involves the protection of public health. A portion of the Indirect Potable Reuse: Surface Water Augmentation regulations are contained in California Code of Regulations, Title 22, Division 4, Chapter 17, Article 9. In addition to the Uniform Statewide Recycling Criteria, cross-connection control regulations address the protection of public water supplies from cross-connection with nonpotable systems and are contained in California Code of Regulations, Title 17, Subchapter 1, Group 4. The current regulations address nonpotable and indirect potable reuse. Regulations for onsite treated nonpotable reuse and direct potable reuse are in development. More information can be found at the following Division of Drinking Water pages:
Nonpotable recycled water is treated wastewater; raw wastewater contains microbiological pathogens (e.g., viruses, bacteria, parasites) at a high enough concentration to cause unacceptable levels of illness after a single, brief exposure. In general, public health is protected through appropriate treatment to reduce pathogens to an acceptable level depending on the type of use, limits on the types of uses, and use area requirements. The Uniform Statewide Recycling Criteria address the protection of public health in detail.
For most nonpotable uses recycled water must be disinfected and meet the effluent total coliform limits specified in regulation. For disinfected tertiary recycled water the water must be filtered and disinfected; the regulations specify criteria for these processes. The regulations also require treatment plants have robust reliability features. There are also use area requirements that limit public exposure to the recycled water. These include signage, setback requirements from domestic water supply wells, and limits on runoff and overspray.
Each proposed recycling project must submit an engineering report detailing how it complies with federal and state regulations for the protection of public health. The State Water Board’s Division of Drinking Water reviews this report and makes permit recommendations to the regional water boards.
Recycled water for potable reuse is treated wastewater; raw wastewater contains microbiological pathogens (e.g., viruses, bacteria, parasites) at a high enough concentration to cause unacceptable levels of illness after a single, brief exposure. The density must be greatly reduced continuously by removal or inactivation in the environment and/or engineered treatment to yield safe drinking water. Raw municipal wastewater also contains wastes from a variety of dischargers containing variable types and concentrations of known and unknown chemicals, some of which may pose a health risk. Treatment must be provided to remove these chemicals to levels that are below public health concern in order to yield safe drinking water. Detailed information on the risk management approach is contained in the Proposed Framework for Regulating Potable Reuse in California, Second Edition.
The production, distribution, and use of recycled water may be permitted through general or individual waste discharge requirements (WDRs) (CWC §13263), water reclamation requirements (WRRs) (CWC §13523), a master reclamation permit (MRP) (CWC §13523.1), or amendments to an adopted order, such as an existing WDR or National Pollutant Discharge Elimination System Permit. The nine Regional Water Quality Control Boards (regional water boards) issue these permits in compliance with federal and state water quality laws and regulations. The regional water boards also determine permit compliance and take appropriate enforcement actions. In rare cases, such as where a proposed project falls under the jurisdiction of multiple regional water boards, the State Water Board may issue recycled water permits. The regional water boards coordinate with the State Water Board’s Division of Drinking Water to ensure a proposed recycled water project complies with all federal and state regulations for the protection of public health. Prior to being permitted for the production, distribution, or use of recycled water, a proposed recycled water project must receive approval from the State Water Board’s Division of Drinking Water for an engineering report prepared in compliance with California Code of Regulations, Title 22, Division 4, Chapter 3 (Uniform Statewide Recycling Criteria).
- Preparation of an Engineering Report for the Production, Distribution and Use of Recycled Water (PDF)— March 2001
All appropriate and eligible proposed nonpotable recycled water proponents with the capability of taking on the responsibility of administrating water recycling programs should enroll under the statewide general Water Reclamation Requirements for Recycled Water Use (Order No. WQ 2016-0068-DDW) to provide permit coverage to distribute and/or use recycled water.
Onsite treated nonpotable water systems will be permitted by local jurisdictions (city or county, or city and county). For additional information, visit the State Water Board’s Division of Drinking Water page for Onsite Treatment and Reuse of Nonpotable Water.
Direct potable reuse projects will be permitted by the State Water Board’s Division of Drinking Water.
To find the appropriate recycled water permitting contact for a proposed project, please navigate to the WDR Program Contact Page.
The State Water Board Water Recycling Funding Program (WRFP) provides funding for construction loans and grants and planning grants. The mission of the WRFP is to promote the beneficial use of treated municipal wastewater (water recycling) in order to augment fresh water supplies in California by providing technical and financial assistance to agencies and other stakeholders in support of water recycling projects and research.
To apply for funding visit the Financial Assistance Application Submittal Tool Website
The volumetric annual report requires wastewater and recycled water dischargers (including dischargers that do not produce any recycled water) to annually report monthly volumes of influent, wastewater produced, and effluent, including treatment level and discharge type. As applicable, dischargers are additionally required to annually report recycled water use by volume and category of reuse.
Recycled water volume for the 2019 reporting year was 686,000 acre-feet per year (AFY). Approximately 3.7 million AFY total influent entered wastewater treatment plants in 2019, and around 2.7 million AFY effluent was discharged and not recycled.
The State Water Board works with members of the recycled water community to identify knowledge gaps in recycled water research areas, for both potable and nonpotable applications. Staff uses this input to develop recycled water research funding priorities. The State Water Board has historically funded recycled water research through the Safe Drinking Water, Clean Water, Watershed Protection, and Flood Protection Act (2000 Water Bond, Proposition 13), the Water Quality, Supply, and Infrastructure Improvement Act of 2014 (Proposition 1) and other funding sources.