In September 2012, the City and County of San Francisco adopted the Onsite Water Reuse for Commercial, Multi-family, and Mixed Use Development Ordinance. Commonly known as the Non-potable Water Ordinance, it added Article 12C to the San Francisco Health Code, allowing for the collection, treatment, and use of alternate water sources for non-potable applications. In October 2013, the ordinance was amended to allow district-scale water systems consisting of two or more buildings sharing non-potable water.
The Non-potable Water Program (NP Program) Guidebook details the steps presented below that must be taken to collect, treat, and use non-potable water in commercial, mixed-use, and multi-family residential developments. The program also outlines the oversight of the San Francisco Public Utilities Commission (SFPUC) and the City’s Departments of Public Health (SFDPH) and Building Inspection (SFDBI) during the review process.
Several developments in San Francisco, including SFPUC Headquarters (525 Golden Gate Ave.) are operating or are in the process of installing a non-potable water system. For more information about these developments, please see the San Francisco’s Non-Potable Water System Projects case studies.
The SFPUC also created a grant assistance program that provides up to $250,000 or $500,000 for projects meeting sepcific eligibility criteria.
Step 1: Submit a Water Budget Application to the SFPUC
Two Water Use Calculators are available from the SFPUC to help estimate your demands. One of the below calculators must be completed and submitted with your project's Water Budget Application.
Step 2: Submit an Engineering Report to SFDPH
The Engineering Report must prepared by a registered professional engineer. Rainwater harvesting projects for non-spray irrigation, and foundation drainage or gray water projects for subsurface irrigation, do not need to submit an Engineering Report.
Step 3: Obtain Building Permits and Construct the Onsite Water System
SFDPH approval of the Engineering Report is required before SFDBI will issue a plumbing permit.
Step 4: Schedule a Cross-Connection Test
Non-potable water systems must include the required level of backflow prote ction as set forth by the San Francisco Public Utilities Commission Cross-Connection Control Program. Please see Required Levels of Backflow Protection for Non-potable Water Systems.
Step 5: Obtain a Permit to Operate from SFDPH
A Construction Certification letter and successful Cross Connection test are required prior to operation. Rainwater harvesting projects for non-spray irrigation, and foundation drainage or graywater projects for subsurface irrigation, do not need to obtain a Permit to Operate.
Step 6: Conduct Ongoing Monitoring, Reporting, and Inspections.
Ongoing monitoring is crucial to ensure the onsite water system is in proper working order. Operators report the results of the ongoing monitoring to SFDPH using the Discharge Monitoring Report form at the frequency identified in their Permit to Operate.
New Legislation Effective November 1, 2015
In July 2015, the Non-potable Water Ordinance was amended to require the following beginning on November 1, 2015:
- that all new buildings of 250,000 square feet or more of gross floor, located within the boundaries of San Francisco's designated recycled water use area be constructed, operated, and maintained using available alternate water sources for toilet and urinal flushing and irrigation;
- that all new buildings in San Francisco of 40,000 square feet or more of gross floor area prepare water budget calculations;
- that subdivision approval requirements include compliance with Article 12C of the San Francisco Health Code; and
- facilities constructed in accordance with Article 12C of the San Francisco Health Code and located in public rights-of-way are subject to approval as minor encroachments and exempt from payment of public right-of-way occupancy assessment fees.
The July 2015 amendments to the Non-potable Water Ordinance also required the following beginning on November 1, 2016:
- that new buildings of 250,000 square feet or more of gross floor located outside the boundaries of San Francisco's designated recycled water use area be constructed, operated, and maintained using available alternate water sources for toilet and urinal flushing and irrigation.
Innovation in Urban Water Systems
On May 29-30, 2014, a dedicated group of water agencies, public health departments, and research institutions from across North America met in San Francisco to discuss onsite water treatment systems at the Innovation in Urban Water Systems Meeting. Using the experiences shared from those organizations present at the Meeting, the group developed the “Blueprint for Onsite Water Systems” to serve as a how-to guide for communities interested in implementing onsite treatment programs. Please visit the Innovation in Urban Water Systems webpage to find out more information about the meeting and participating agencies.
Non-potable Program Resources: