When it comes to water efficiency, could the Bay Area serve as a test-bed for new programs and policies on water efficiency and alternative sourcing? According to Vision 2020 water efficiency chair and San Francisco Public Utilities Commission (SFPUC) director of water resources Paula Kehoe, municipal water providers across the country (with progressive cities like San Francisco at the forefront) are seeking to diversify their water supply sources to offset real and potential impacts from droughts, climate variability, and increased demand. What can be learned from the Bay Area in this regard? 

The SFPUC is currently developing and implementing a number of demonstration programs, near-term projects, and long-term goals that will help create a path to sustainability to offset or prevent future public water shortfall issues. As part of this effort, SFPUC recently acted to diversify its portfolio of options beyond traditional sources—such as conservation measures, groundwater, recycled water, and conservation methods—to include the use of graywater, blackwater, rainwater, and stormwater, as well as foundation drainage. The commission also set a goal to collect 10 million gallons of water per day (mgd) from these and other alternate sources.  These efforts are ongoing, and although SFPUC now expects to exceed the 10 mgd goal and is encouraged by progress in implementing these initiatives, it is still too early to judge results.

In conjunction with this effort, SFPUC produced a graywater design manual for the residential sector, and an on-site non-potable water use guidebook for developers. Feedback on the documents is reportedly very good, but when asked whether the documents could serve as a model for other states and municipalities, or if there was any interest from the national code bodies, Kehoe said that although the guides are site-specific to California and the California plumbing codes, since publishing the Non-Potable Water Program in the Journal of the American Water Works Association, SFPUC has been contacted by other U.S. and Canadian municipalities regarding the program and the potential to use a similar framework for within their community. “As this is such a new field,” Kehoe notes, “we are happy to share our information and lessons learned to help others implement a regulatory process that streamlines the steps for developers, all the while ensuring the protection of public health.” 

SFPUC is also rolling out a grant program to encourage on-site non-potable water use in new buildings and existing buildings where retrofit costs allow. This program will be expanded this summer to address district water sharing as well. The goal is to collect usable data on project costs and the potential to offset expenditures. A secondary goal is to determine whether $250,000 seed grants are enough to move the market and encourage public participation in projects of this nature. SFPUC hopes to ultimately publish this information and gauge the potential to spur this type of new, hyper-efficient, water use within buildings. No applications have been made as yet, but inquiries are being received from interested parties. 

As for next steps, and the potential for actionable results from the above initiatives, SFPUC is currently looking to scale up the collection, treatment, and reuse of alternate water sources in new buildings and new districts. The desired outcome is to not only increase local water availability, but also to show other municipalities how they can implement a regulatory process to review and permit appropriate alternate water source projects in their own service areas. 

Building on its successful launch in 2012, ECOHOME’s Vision 2020 program continues in 2013, focusing on eight critical areas in sustainability. Track our progress all year (ecobuildingpulse.com/Vision-2020) as our panel of visionary focus-area chairs, our editors, and leading researchers, practitioners, and advocates share their perspectives on initiating, tracking, and ensuring progress toward sustainable priorities and goals in residential construction between now and 2020. The program will culminate in an exclusive Vision 2020 Forum in Washington, D.C., in September 2013, and with a special edition of ECOHOME in Winter 2013. Click here to see the 2012 Wrap-Up.