Changing Codes and Regulations

Legalizing resilient systems requires rigorous research, education, and advocacy.

PHLUSH receives frequent inquiries about alternatives to sewered sanitation and currently authorized onsite septic systems. While code change is not our specialty, we stay current on the movement to adopt alternative systems relevant to emergency management in vulnerable regions.

Official risk assessments show that wastewater treatment and septic systems in affected areas will fail and that it will take months and years to repair or replace them. We advocate the prototyping of waterless and low water alternatives in the context of community preparedness. More resilient and sustainable systems also help communities adapt to sea level rise and the effects of disrupted weather patterns.

Given PHLUSH participation in writing the International Code Council’s Global Guideline for Practical Public Toilet Design, we understand how complex code development is. The goal of this page is to highlight key resources - organizations, codes, case studies - to help those engaged in the challenging wok of revising current codes and requirements for onsite water and sanitation in their communities.

Recode has fostered the success of grey water and sanitation codes.

Start with the work of Recode. This small dynamic organization contributed significantly to the IAMPO/ANSI WE-Stand Green Code. Entitled Water Efficiency and Sanitation Standard for the Built Environment, this American National Standard is now available for jurisdictions to adopt and apply. It provides minimum requirements for water use practices that maintain protection to public health, safety, and welfare. It applies to residential and commercial building, indoors and outdoors. It contains the first set of comprehensive codified requirements for composting and urine diversion toilets, and progressive provisions for uses of grey water from clothes washers in landscape irrigation.

Recode released "Model Code for Composting and Urine Diverting Toilets" as a public domain document before submitting its draft to IAMPO. While some language was moved and changed, the underlying content and requirements match. Recode's WE-Stand Draft Document is now available here, making it unnecessary to order the official $70 document.

Nutrient-Energy-Water/NEW Nexus Toolkit helps public and private-sector professionals find resources on onsite water reuse systems created through our grant and by others

Recode also offers Water Re-use Permit Maps. These are interactive, place-based graphics that connect users to codes, permits, incentives, and support programs. For a given city, county, or state, it’s easy for users to see whether they can permit a water source for an end use. 

Kailash Ecovillage treatment and reuse of human excreta meets WE-Stand Code and has been recognized by the City of Portland.

Portland, Oregon's Kailash Ecovillage operates a neighborhood system that conforms to the standards of WE-Stand code. Documentation appears in Blue-Green Systems, an academic journal from the International Water Association. The system hot composts feces from dry toilets and treats urine separately. It conserves water, bypasses sewer and electrical infrastructure, makes use of an otherwise wasted nutrient flow, and safely produces compost for organic food production. It also serves as a model for emergency preparedness in an earthquake-prone region. In September 2019, the Kailash Ecovillage system was approved by the City of Portland.

Authored by Ole Ersson and Kimberly King, the research paper is entitled The Kailash Ecovillage project converting human excreta into organic foodstuffs and sanitized compost using new international building codes for compost toilet and urine diversion systems. Access the full article online here. Documents informing the City permit include the operation and maintenance manual for the system, the site plan for the composting processor, and floor plans showing dry toilets integrated into existing village bathrooms.

Solution pathways to regulatory change in Washington, Oregon and California have been analyzed.

Recode, the International Living Futures Institute and the Oregon Environmental Council have identified pathways to code change in a 2017 document Opportunities for Achieving Next Generation Water Infrastructure in California, Oregon and Washington. Working with a broad spectrum of stakeholders, authors identify barriers and offer a coherent approach to creating and testing solution pathways. Noting the rapidly changing world of the treatment of drinking water, greywater and blackwater, they focus on performance codes rather than prescriptive and process-oriented codes.

Water code updates are prerequisites for the introduction of alternative onsite sanitation systems.

Codes and regulations are slowly changing to accommodate decentralized systems. New rules guiding water use and the treatment of non-potable sources are prerequisites for regulatory change regarding onsite septic systems and waterless or low-water toilets.

Those seeking approval for dry toilet systems need to demonstrate to local public health officials that household water needs can also be met onsite. Innovative testing protocols have been developed for harvested rainwater, storm run off, laundry and other greywaters.

Risk-based frameworks are applied to assess multiple flows of non-potable water and guide the acceptability of end uses. For example, the risk of using rainwater to flush toilets carries a very low public health risk. However, using grey water from a shower on a vegetable garden creates a higher risk to public health. Water has to be treated differently depending on where it came from and what it is being used for.

Prepared by the National Water Research Institute (NWRI), the Risk-Based Framework for the Development of Public Health Guidance for Decentralized Non-Potable Water Systems is guiding regulatory change in west coast states.  Recode's Multi-Benefits of Adopting the Risk-based Framework for Onsite Non-potable Water Systems provides talking points for advocates to use with public officials.

The National Blue Ribbon Commission (NBRC) makes available documents to help municipalities craft regulations for the design, permitting, testing, and safe operation of water reuse systems. Their Guidebook for Developing and Implementing Regulations for Onsite Non-potable Water Systems  covers implementation regulations for non-potable reuse systems, model language for a local water reuse ordinance, and model language for a state ordinance. NBRC is a coalition of water advocacy groups and water agencies from 11 states and the District of Columbia.

The Onsite Non-Potable Water Reuse Practice Guide from the William J. Worthen Foundation helps design professionals understand the pros, cons, costs, and regulatory considerations of water reuse systems.

Here are developments to watch in the Oregon Legislature.

House Bill 3182 As noted in by Recode Executive Director Pat Lando in his March 2019 testimony on behalf of HB 3182, "the legislative intent is to create regulatory structure for the safe and efficient use of onsite non-potable water systems (ONWS) based on the work of the Water Research Foundation (WRF). Treatment and monitoring requirements will be based upon the 2017 WRF ‘Risk-Based Framework for the Development of Public Health Guidance for Decentralized Non-Potable Water Systems’ that employs log (exponential) reduction targets of human-infectious pathogens for different alternative water sources." As the session adjourned in June  2020, Oregon House Bill 3182 was in the Ways and Means Committee and had not yet come to a vote.

Watch these developments in the Washington State Legislature.

House Bill 1747  “concerning risk-based water quality standards for on-site non-potable water systems” passed the House 60 to 36 in March 2019 and went to the Senate. It "requires the Department of Health to adopt rules for risk-based water quality standards for the on-site treatment and reuse of nonpotable alternative water sources for nonpotable end uses" See House and Senate reports.

Recent developments in WA Code Change include the 2018 adoption of the Reclaimed Water Rule, which sets design and construction requirements for advanced treatment of sewage, and its use for irrigation, toilet flushing, and related uses. Under the new rule, both DOH and Ecology may issue permits. Public Health will issue permits for reclaimed water projects linked to onsite sewage system permits and continue to assist Ecology with reclamation projects and permits associated with permits they issue. See Reclaimed Water Chapter 173-219 WAC

Also in 2018, the State Board of Health directed the Department of Health to begin rule revision on onsite sewage systems in WAC 246-272A. It requires review of the rule every four years to determine if it still meets its intent to protect the health of the public and of ground and surface waters. The review process included many diverse stakeholders and identified a number of key design, maintenance, and monitoring requirements that need updating.

Case studies of recently permitted green plumbing projects are useful guides to those seeking change.
These articles are regularly edited and updated by the Wikipedia Sanitation Project.
Download these resources from the PHLUSH Advocacy Toolkit:
Check out these organizations and documents.
PHLUSH welcomes questions, comments, additions, and corrections to this listing.

Please contact us with any input.

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