California bill to allow rainwater reuse systems

SACRAMENTO — California Assemblyman Jose Solorio has introduced a bill that would allow any building owner, residential or commercial, to install and use a rainwater recovery and reuse system for indoor or outdoor use. The bill, in turn, has started a tussle over which green plumbing codes should be referenced in the bill.

This bill would enact the Rainwater Capture Act of 2011, which would authorize residential, commercial, and governmental landowners to install, maintain and operate rain barrel systems and rainwater capture systems.

The bill currently references the Green Plumbing and Mechanical Code Supplement, an overlay to the Uniform Plumbing Code and the Uniform Mechanical Code, published by the International Association of Plumbing & Mechanical Officials.

The International Code Council, publisher of the International Plumbing Code and International Mechanical Code, and its partner, the American Society of Heating, Refrigerating & Air-Conditioning Engineers, are trying to get their joint International Green Construction Code written into the legislation.

The preamble to AB275 notes that drought has changed California’s water supply, making a different approach a priority.

“Historical patterns of precipitation are predicted to change, with two major implications for water supply,” the bill reads. “First, an increasing amount of California's water is predicted to fall not as snow in the mountains, but as rain in other areas of the state. This will likely have a profound and transforming effect on California's hydrologic cycle and much of that water will no longer be captured by California's reservoirs, many of which are located to capture snowmelt. Second, runoff resulting from snowmelt is predicted to occur progressively earlier in the year, and reservoirs operated for flood control purposes must release water early in the season to protect against later storms, thereby reducing the amount of early season snowmelt that can be stored.”

California has more rooftops and parking lots than ever before, making rainwater recovery a logical step, the bill says.

The legislation states that property owners can install a rain barrel system, if the system is used only to supply water for outdoor, non-potable uses and is used in compliance with all manufacturer instructions; a rainwater capture system for subsequent outdoor non-potable use or infiltration into groundwater; or a rainwater capture system for subsequent indoor non-potable use, as long as the system complies with specific health and safety requirements.

The bill would require the system to include supplemental filtration, a disinfection device, or both or some other process or device that performs an equivalent function as determined by the local agency having jurisdiction. A “disinfection device” could be defined as a pressure filter, chlorination or ultraviolet radiation.

If the system is connected to the potable water supply to provide a backup water supply, the rainwater reuse system must be equipped with an appropriate backflow prevention device.

With the exception of rain barrels, the local AHJ would also have to issue permits for the systems. A system could also not be installed in such a way that it violates the California Building Standards Code.

Then comes the point of contention. The bill would require:

“The system complies with the requirements contained in the 2010 Green Plumbing and Mechanical Code Supplement, published by the International Association of Plumbing and Mechanical Officials (IAPMO), unless the California Building Standards Commission and the Department of Housing and Community Development adopt superseding building standards for rainwater capture systems for indoor non-potable use.”

The state, especially Democrats, the California Pipe Trades Council, and IAPMO have long had close ties. The California Plumbing Code is based on IAPMO’s Uniform Plumbing Code, as amended by the Building Standards Commission.

That connection to the UPC should be irrelevant when it comes to rainwater catchment, the ICC and ASHRAE maintain.

“As the developer of another national green code, the International Green Construction Code (IGCC), ICC strongly endorses the practice of rainwater collection but believes that AB 275 should be amended to include the option of complying with the IGCC,” ICC said in a fact sheet that it has distributed to California legislators.

“The IGCC contains a robust rainwater collection section that ensures that rainwater is collected and used safely and effectively,” ICC noted. “However, the IGCC allows more rainwater to be collected and used in more places than the IAPMO Green Plumbing and Mechanical Code Supplement (GPMCS) that is currently referenced in the bill. For this reason, ICC and its partner ASHRAE believe that AB 275 should reference both the IGCC and the GPMCS to maximize rainwater collection and use opportunities.”

Specifically, the IGCC allows use of water from parking lots to be used for irrigation, while IAPMO’s Green Supplement does not.

ASHRAE President Lynn G. Bellenger urged Assemblyman Solorio in a letter to include the IGCC.

“Developed using an open consensus process and the input of and partnership with industry experts, including representatives from the American Institute of Architects (AIA), ASHRAE, American Society for Testing and Materials (ASTM), Illuminating Engineering Society of North America (IES), and the U.S. Green Building Council (USGBC), the IGCC will help you and California accomplish your water efficiency and recapture goals,” Bellenger wrote. “The IGCC will assist in helping to protect California’s water supply, provide tank safety and durability, and prevent infestation from rodents, as well as provide guidance that is not currently covered by the California Plumbing Code for rainwater reuse — especially for water reclamation on rooftops and parking/driving surfaces.”

“The issue at hand is that rainwater systems include both roofing systems (the collection surface) and plumbing systems for delivery,” said Jay Peters, ICC executive director, Plumbing, Mechanical & Fuel Gas. “While the plumbing side is covered by the California Plumbing Code, based on the UPC, the roofing is covered by the California Building Code, which is based on the [ICC International Building Code]. Because this issue bridges plumbing and building systems, looking to both seems to make sense in our book. It’s also important to remember — the GPMCS is not part of the UPC. It has not been developed using their ANSI consensus process that has been used for the UPC. These are separate and distinct documents, for the moment, at least. For that reason, we do not believe that the current adoption of the UPC and UMC in California obligate the [Building Standards Commission] to use the Green Supplement.”

AB 275 is currently being considered by several committees in the California Assembly and Senate.

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