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California’s Milestone: Pioneering Direct Potable Wastewater Reuse Regulations

Jul 2, 2024

This is an excerpt from the conversation Rosario Cortés, Manager of Regulatory Affairs at WateReuse of California, held during the webinar “Wastewater becoming potable: Enhancing present innovation for a sustainable future,” organized by Bluephage on April 24, 2024. 

California’s recent endeavor to adopt regulations for direct potable reuse (DPR) is a significant stride in the state’s water management and sustainability efforts. This landmark decision, underscores California’s commitment to addressing crucial water issues and challenges.

The California State Water Resources Control Board (State Board’s), the state’s primary water regulatory agency, completed California’s DPR regulations by the statutory deadline in December 2023. This achievement, the culmination of a decade-long process, is a testament to the State Board’s scientific and comprehensive approach to ensuring the highest level of drinking water quality and the protection of public health.

During Bluephage’s webinar “Wastewater Becoming Potable: Enhancing Present Innovation for a Sustainable Future”, Rosario Cortés, Manager of Regulatory Affairs at WateReuse California, shed light on the significant issues and challenges encountered during this transformative journey, sharing the arduous and rewarding path towards establishing the DPR regulation.

The DPR regulation involved extensive advocacy efforts, and the fostering of collaboration among various entities in the water management field. Key players such as the recycled water community, research groups, and the State Board embarked on a collective mission to ensure the final regulations prioritized public health while meeting stringent standards.

A crucial aspect of this effort was to conduct extensive research to determine appropriate treatment levels and regulatory requirements. This meticulous approach was intended to instill confidence among stakeholders and future customers regarding the protective measures outlined in the regulations.

The DPR regulations encompass a range of provisions, including stricter treatment standards, source control measures, and operator requirements. These comprehensive measures underscore California’s unwavering commitment to guaranteeing the health, safety and reliability of drinking water from recycled sources.

In distinguishing between direct and indirect potable reuse options, the DPR regulations stand out for their stringency and specificity. Although differences exist between the approaches, the emphasis remains on maintaining the highest levels of public health protection.

Rosario noted the cost-effectiveness of indirect potable reuse (IPR). Despite affordability, building confidence in recycled water is always critical with your customers. Although desalination plants produce high-quality water, their costs and environmental impact often raise concerns. In contrast, IPR offers a viable alternative –producing drinking water that meets of exceeds standards and a reduced environmental footprint. However, building social awareness and trust remains crucial to its widespread adoption.

Scientific research has played a vital role in developing the basic requirements of the DPR regulations. Eight years of dedicated research efforts have laid the groundwork for establishing the scientific foundation and standards underpinning the regulations.

California’s journey toward DPR implementation is a testament to the state’s proactive approach to water management and sustainability. Through collaboration, advocacy, and scientific rigor, California has paved the way for innovative water reuse solutions, setting a precedent for other regions to follow suit.

Rosario Cortes

Rosario Cortés, Manager of Regulatory Affairs , WateReuse, California, USA

Rosario represents WRCA in a myriad regulatory activities involving recycled water including the implementation of the water use efficiency legislation, the development of the Cross-Connection Control Policy Handbook, the Clean Water State Revolving Fund (CWSRF) and other funding issues, the onsite reuse regulations, and more. She provides support and legislative and regulatory information to our seven chapters and standing committees. Rosario has 20-plus years of experience in California water policy. In addition to working for two members of the California State Legislature, a governor, and as a contract legislative advocate, she held several high-level positions for water-related associations, including the Association of California Water Agencies, the California Municipal Utilities Association, and most recently, the California Special Districts Association.

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