State water power brokers continue to battle over “replumbing” the Delta in the name of “saving” the Chinook and the Delta smelt. They continue to quibble over language in yet another water bond when we haven’t even started spending the last one. But little has been done to make it easy to exploit our most logical source of water: rain.
One of the great qualities of rain is that no one has any rights to it until it hits an aquifer or a body of water. As such, agribusiness and ginormous water districts can’t fight over water rights as gravity takes it from the sky to your backyard.
Over the past few months, Heal the Bay has been meeting with Los Angeles County, the city of Los Angeles and Santa Monica on the issue of making it easier for residents to capture and use rainwater. After all, the region is desperate for new local water supplies. It also needs more stormwater pollution reduction measures. The State Water Recycling Policy also strongly encourages local entities to capture and use stormwater. The policy even includes a goal of 500,000 additional acre feet of stormwater use by 2020 and 1 million acre feet by 2030.
Despite the big push towards stormwater use, no one has weighed in on what aspects of the health code should apply to the rainwater. This regulatory uncertainty has been a real deterrent towards the use of more rain barrels and cisterns in the region. The water recycling standards under Title 22 of the health code are far too stringent for rainwater. Those guidelines were developed to protect the public from exposure to treated water that was once raw sewage. Rainwater doesn’t pose much of a health risk, so the requirements don’t need to be as tough.
We’re near completion on our discussions of the issue and it looks like the proposed policy to the County’s Health Department will look like this:
- For a rain barrel of up to 150 gallons, the requirements will be pretty minimal. Residents will be advised to use a sealed, labeled, non-potable rain barrel and a hose with no pump for landscape irrigation.
- For cisterns over this volume, the requirements will be pretty easy to meet if the rainwater is used for drip or subsurface irrigation. For water capture on site and used for spray irrigation or that is pumped for use, the water will need to be disinfected to reduce any potential health risks.
- Right now, we’re leaning towards an enterococcus bacteria standard of 104 bacteria per 100 milliliters. For larger, regional projects where some of the stormwater comes from off site, the requirements get stricter. Extra filtration or sedimentation steps will be required, as will recirculation facilities (water stirrers) for the sealed large storage facilities.
- All rainwater projects that use water for spray irrigation or government vehicle washing or street-sweeping will be approved by County Health. This water will be disinfected and monitored.
I hope these discussions can come to an end soon so the Health Department can move forward on approving a policy. With our ongoing water crisis, the need for local water supply has never been greater and one of the best answers to the problem continues to fall from the sky. A new rainwater harvesting policy that encourages rainwater use has been long overdue, but that will change soon.