Recycled Water

California defines recycled water as “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.”

California Title 22

California Code of Regulations (CCR) Title 22 stipulates the level of water quality required when applying recycled water to various types of beneficial uses. Presently, only recycled water that has been treated to near potable standards (i.e., high quality filtered and disinfected tertiary wastewater) can be used for purposes in which humans may come into contact with the water, such as irrigation of playgrounds, or where the recycled water may be ingested, such as irrigation of food crops in which the recycled water comes into direct contact with edible portions of the crop.

Demand Sectors and Examples of Minimum Treatment Levels for Specific Uses to Protect Public Health

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Increased water demand coupled with dwindling groundwater supplies and the uncertainty of surface water supplies are creating more demand for recycled water, and demand to use recycled water for more purposes. The State Water Resources Control Board (SWRCB) is presently addressing multiple proposed changes to the State’s recycled water policies and regulations that are aimed at maximizing the drought resilience value of recycled water.

Types of Water Reuse

Direct potable reuse (DPR)

There are two forms of DPR. In the first form, purified water from an advanced treatment facility is introduced into the raw water supply immediately upstream of a water treatment plant. In the second form, finished water is introduced directly into a potable water supply distribution system, downstream of a water treatment plant.

Indirect potable reuse (IPR)

In IPR, purified water from an advanced water treatment facility is introduced into an environmental buffer, such as a water body upstream from the intake to the drinking water facility, for a specified period of time before being withdrawn for potable purposes (see also de facto potable reuse).

De facto potable reuse

The downstream usage of surface waters as sources of drinking water that are subject to upstream wastewater discharges (e.g., unplanned potable reuse).

Source: State Water Resources Control Board (SWRCB)

The need to increase production of local water supplies and decrease reliance on riskier imported supplies are driving densely populated urban areas to treat wastewater to tertiary standards, at a minimum, so that recycled water can displace use of valuable potable water supplies for non-potable purposes. In addition, technological advancements are enabling urban wastewater systems to add a “purification” stage to tertiary treated wastewater (ultrafiltration and advanced disinfection), creating a new, high quality “potable” water supply. (While not yet approved for direct human consumption, the SWRCB is considering new regulations to allow advanced “purified” water to directly augment potable water supplies in reservoirs and distribution systems.)

The State’s Recycled Water Policy was first adopted on January 6, 1977 via SWRCB Resolution No. 77-1. The Resolution set forth the following general principles for SWRCB investment:

The Resolution set forth the following general principles for SWRCB investment:

  • “Beneficial use will be made of wastewaters that would otherwise be discharged to marine or brackish receiving waters or evaporation ponds."

  • “Reclaimed water will replace or supplement the use of fresh water or better quality water."

  • “Reclaimed water will be used to preserve, restore, or enhance instream beneficial uses which include, but are not limited to, fish, wildlife, recreation and esthetics associated with any surface water or wetlands.”

The Resolution further stated that “The State and the Regional Boards shall (1) encourage reclamation and reuse of water in water-short areas of the State, (2) encourage water conservation measures which further extend the water resources of the State, and (3) encourage other agencies, in particular the Department of Water Resources, to assist in implementing this policy.”

Periodic surveys have been conducted by the SWRCB since 1970 to categorize and quantify the volume of recycled water produced and beneficially used throughout the State.

The below figure illustrates the growth in recycled water production and use in California from 1970 through 2009.

  • Between 1970 and 2001, recycled water production and use increased three-fold: from 175,000 AF/year (AFY) to 525,000 AFY.

  • Between 2001 and 2009, recycled water increased an addition 144,000 AFY (a 27.4% increase over 2001, and 282% over 1970).


Source: Results, Challenges, and Future Approaches to California’s Municipal Wastewater Recycling Survey, State Water Resources Control Board and Department of Water Resources, 2009, Figure 1.

The following figure shows the change in beneficial uses of recycled water between 2001 and 2009. The primary changes were additional recycled water use by golf courses, and the beginning of recycled water use by the Commercial sector.

For more information on the current state of water recycling in California, see SWRCB’s website: Water Recycling Funding Program (WRFP).

On February 3, 2009, after conducting multiple public workshops and certifying regulatory program environmental analysis in compliance with CEQA, the SWRCB adopted A Policy for Water Quality Control for Recycled Water. The 2009 Policy [SWRCB Resolution No. 2009-0011] update was designed to support one of the priorities articulated in the SWRCB’s Strategic Plan Update 2008-2012: “to increase sustainable local water supplies available for meeting existing and future beneficial uses by 1,725,000 acre-feet per year, in excess of 2002 levels, by 2015, and ensure adequate water flows for fish and wildlife habitat. This Recycled Water Policy (Policy) is intended to support the Strategic Plan priority to Promote Sustainable Local Water Supplies. Increasing the acceptance and promoting the use of recycled water is a means towards achieving sustainable local water supplies and can result in reduction in greenhouse gases, a significant driver of climate change. The Policy is also intended to encourage beneficial use of, rather than solely disposal of, recycled water.”

SWRCB Resolution No. 2009-0011 directed the SWRCB to convene a “blue-ribbon” advisory panel (Panel) to provide guidance on future actions related to monitoring constituents of emerging concern (CECs) in recycled water. On January 22, 2013, the Policy was amended to specify monitoring requirements for constituents of emerging concern (CECs) in recycled water for groundwater recharge projects based on recommendations from a 2010 Science Advisory Panel.

In December 2016, the SWRCB adopted Resolution No. 2016-0061, which directed staff to “reconvene the Science Advisory Panel to update its recommendations for monitoring CECs in recycled water and update the Recycled Water Policy considering changes that have taken place since 2013.” The Science Advisory Panel issued its report Monitoring Strategies for Constituents of Emerging Concern (CECs) in Recycled Water Recommendations of a Science Advisory Panel in April 2018. The Proposed Amendment to the Policy for Water Quality Control for Recycled Water (2018) was released for Public Comment on May 9, 2018.

Policy adopted to maximize use of recycled water.

“It is hereby declared that the primary interest of the people of the state in the conservation of all available water resources requires the maximum reuse of reclaimed water in the satisfaction of requirements for beneficial uses of water.”

The act articulated the importance of recycled water in achieving drought resilience and established recycling goals of 700,000 acre-feet of water annually by year 2000 and 1 million acre-feet annually by 2010.

The act required:

  • That the Department of Water Resources (DWR) adopt and submit to the California Building Standards Commission regulations establishing design standards for the safe use of recycled water through dual plumbing (both potable and recycled water). DWR was required to consult with the State Department of Health Services in developing these standards.
  • In so doing, the bill clearly articulated the Legislature’s intent “to help the state meet its goal of recycling 1,000,000 acre-feet of water per year by 2010 in accordance with Section 13577 of the Water Code.”

They required adoption of uniform water recycling criteria for groundwater recharge and surface water augmentation.

  • Added “raw water augmentation” and “treated drinking water augmentation” to the definition of “direct potable reuse”;
  • Changed the term “surface water augmentation” to “reservoir water augmentation”;
  • And redefined that term to mean 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 or into a constructed system conveying water to such a reservoir.
  • AB574 also recommended that the SWRCB establish a framework for regulating potable reuse projects before June 1, 2018.
  • AB574 further required the SWRCB “to adopt uniform water recycling criteria for direct potable reuse through raw water augmentation.”
  • The bill further prohibits the SWRCB from adopting the uniform water recycling criteria until the expert review panel adopts a finding that the proposed criteria would adequately protect public health.
  • In compliance with SB918 [2010] and AB574 [2017], the SWRCB adopted Surface Water Augmentation (SWA) Regulations were approved by the Office of Administrative Law on August 7, 2018, and filed with the Secretary of State: August 7, 2018. These new regulations become effective on October 1, 2018.

Within the United States, there are no federal regulations for water recycling or recycled water reuse. The responsibility thus falls to state and local agencies.[1] However, there are certain overarching federal laws that do impact the planning state of projects.

California's Recycled Water Policy Goals (2018 Proposed Amendment)

  • recycled_water@2x

    Increase use of recycled water from 714,000 AFY in 2015 to 1.5 Million AFY by 2020 and to 2.5 Million AFY by 2030.

  • waste_water@2x

    Minimize direct discharge of treated municipal wastewater to enclosed bays, estuaries and coastal lagoons, and ocean waters, except where necessary to maintain beneficial uses

Source: DRAFT Amendment to the Recycled Water Policy, SWRCB, May 9, 2018. 

In California, the State Water Resource Control Board (SWRCB) and the nine Regional Water Boards hold jurisdiction over recycled water in California (the Drinking Water Program [DWP]). Prior to 2014, the California Department of Public Health shared joint jurisdiction over the public health and drinking water supplies but in 2014 the Division of Drinking Water (DDW) was transferred to the SWRCB.

Following is a brief description of the state agencies’ roles and responsibilities with respect to recycled water.

  • The SWRCB is tasked with the overall protection of water quality, drinking water and water supplies. To that end, the SWRCB is responsible for establishing the policies that govern permitting of recycled water projects, makes sure the recycled water use goals are met and develops the general permit for irrigation uses of water.

  • The California Department of Water Resources (DWR) updates and reviews the California Water Plan every five years. This review includes looking at the current and future uses of recycled water. DWR will also help the SWRCB issue bonds for recycling water incentives.

  • The Regional Water Boards protect surface and groundwater resources and are the entity that issue permits with the DDW. Permits include the below:

    • Water Supply Permit for water purveying agency: Issued after project implementation incorporating State and federal drinking water requirements and project specific requirements.
    • NPDES Discharge Permit for augmentation discharger: Issued by the Regional Board and US EPA after CEQA and before the project start. Permit incorporates the Clean Water Act requirements, State and regional water quality standards and site-specific discharge requirements and other SWRCB requirements. This permit is valid for 5 years.

The California Public Utilities Commission (CPUC) approves the terms of service and rates for recycled water use by investor-owned utilities.



Resolution No. 77-1: SWRCB Policy with Respect to Water Reclamation in California.


Memorandum of Agreement (MOA) between the Department of Health Services and SWRCB that sets forth principles, procedures and agreements related to use of reclaimed water in California.


Title 22 revisions listing allowable recycled water uses, are adopted.


SWRCB adopts Recycled Water Policy to support the Strategic Plan priority to Promote Sustainable Local Water Supplies and increase beneficial uses of recycled water.

SWRCB adopts Statewide general permit for landscape irrigation uses of recycled water.

The State sets the goal to increase recycled water over 2002 levels by at least 1 million acre-feet (AF) per year by 2020 and 2M AF by 2030 (Resolution No. 2009-0011).


SB 918 amends the Water Code and required the adoption of uniform water recycling criteria for groundwater recharge (by 2013) and surface water augmentation (by 2016).


SWRCB adopts the Recycled Water Policy Amendment (Resolution No. 2013-003).


Drinking Water Program (DWP) transferred from DHS to the SWRCB, which includes “the development of recycled water criteria and regulations pertinent to the use of recycled water to augment drinking water supplies and registration of residential water treatment.”

Title 22 revisions, which include notes on indirect potable reuse for groundwater and surface water augmentation.

SWRCB adopts groundwater replenishment regulations using recycled water.


SWRCB releases final report on recommendations for feasibility of direct potable reuse (DPR).


SWRCB adopts resolution for Surface Water Augmentation March 6, 2018.

[1] California Environmental Protection Agency, 2012 Guidelines for Water Reuse, September 2012.