The Washington Department of Ecology finalized rules Wednesday for recycling water for non-drinking uses such as irrigating crops and controlling dust.
The rules, which take effect Feb. 23, were a decade in the making and consolidate a patchwork of regulations that govern reclaimed-water projects.
“Reclaiming water can help Washington communities prepare for and recover from droughts,” Ecology Director Maia Bellon said in a written statement. “By expanding options for reclaimed water use, we can help Washington communities use the right water for the right use.”
The Legislature directed Ecology in 2006 to write rules to encourage more water recycling to stretch out water supplies. The rules have been delayed for several reasons, including concerns that recycling wastewater would take water away from downstream users.
Ecology withdrew an earlier proposal in 2015 after the Washington Farm Bureau and others complained the rules would not protect water rights. Ecology presented a revised a proposal last fall that drew few comments.
The new rules will require reclaimed-water proponents to study how their projects would affect existing water rights.
Water rights could not be impaired unless the water-right holder agreed to compensation, or a plan to offset the diversion of water. The state Supreme Court in the 2015 Foster decision, however, barred such plans, including in cases in which the parties agree there would be an environmental benefit.
The rules also require Ecology to consult with tribes and the Department of Fish and Wildlife before approving a project.
The rules set treatment standards for Class A and Class B reclaimed water.
Class A reclaimed water can be used to irrigate food. Class B reclaimed water can also be used to irrigate, but with some restrictions. Class B water can’t touch fruit within 15 days of harvest and also must be applied at least 50 feet away from any public access.
Under old rules, the state has issued 28 permits to reclaim water, mostly to cities, counties and sewer districts.