April 13, 2015 Housing Action Coalition

Legislation to Stop Flushing Hetch Hetchy in New Developments

The inexorable realities of a drought, California’s finite water resources have urgently forced water recycling upon us. Sup. Scott Wiener recently announced legislation that would mandate on-site water recycling systems for new development in the “purple pipe” district. The legislation’s simple purpose is, “Replacing potable water use for toilet and urinal flushing and irrigation to the maximum extent possible with alternative water sources.”

San Francisco’s Public Utilities Commission (PUC) in 1991 mandated that buildings along the eastern and western waterfronts begin to prepare for use of recycled water that it would supply from its future water treatment plants. An enormous bond was approved over a dozen years ago to help pay for, among other things, producing recycled water. Somehow, it never happened, even though many buildings installed the plumbing. Sup. Wiener’s legislation intends to take advantage of the purple pipes to reuse gray water the buildings produce themselves and possibly provide it to others, creating mini-recycled water districts.

Specifically, grey-water and/or black-water systems would be required in new buildings of greater than 250,000 square feet located in purple pipe zones. It would also mandate that new buildings of greater than 40,000 square feet must conduct a formal water balance calculation that “provides for the assessment of a proposed onsite water system, alternate water sources, and the end uses of the alternate water source.

At a time when Hetch Hetchy water has become increasingly precious, usable recycled water has a tangible value that could be monetized. The technical presentation made to our members last week by Gibran Farrah of Mega Western and Christian Park with Environmental Building Strategies (EBS) indicated that water recycling systems are eligible for capital cost grants from the PUC (only 181 Fremont has taken advantage of this program to date). In addition, by reducing the costs of potable water use, they offer a clear return on investment with a payback period that can be calculated. The main point of their presentation was that, even if a new building does not need to install a water recycling system, it will become imperative that developers closely understand the amount of potable water it consumes and the amount of potentially recyclable water it produces.

At this early stage, local developers chief concerns are the significant additional cost to building, in addition to many other mandated costs, including those for Inclusionary Housing, various impact fees, and the future transit fees. In response to this, Sup. Wiener responded, “What alternative do we have?” An important goal for SFHAC is to make sure that new costs to build water recycling systems are shared fairly, especially with one of its main beneficiaries, the PUC.

The SFHAC will be hosting a roundtable discussion with Sup. Wiener in early May where the concerns surrounding the legislation can be discussed in greater depth. Stay tuned….

View the Presentation

 Image credit: NBC News

Housing Action Coalition

The Housing Action Coalition is a member-supported non-profit that advocates for the creation of well designed, well-located housing at all levels of affordability. We believe more housing means more choices and better solutions.

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