While there is growing interest in using reclaimed wastewater for domestic applications, such as toilet and urinal flushing or landscape irrigation, in Alberta. There are health and environmental risks associated with using reclaimed wastewater, which is not of the same quality as the potable water commonly distributed through plumbing fixtures.
Reclaimed wastewater may contain substances and micro-organisms that pose a risk to public health and the environment. The risk to public health can result from direct contact with reclaimed wastewater or through contact with surfaces contaminated by reclaimed wastewater. Research shows that these risks also apply to “grey water,” a term commonly used to describe household wastewater collected from sources like washing machines and bathtubs. “Grey water” does not include wastewater from toilets, urinals or kitchen sinks.
Currently, there are no regulations or codes in place in Alberta to mitigate these risks and ensure that reclaimed wastewater is used safely for domestic applications. The government established the Reclaimed Water Working Group to develop appropriate regulations, and water quality and technical standards or guidelines to facilitate the safe use of reclaimed wastewater in Alberta.
At this time reclaimed wastewater from any source cannot be used for other domestic applications in Alberta unless the reclaimed wastewater is approved and meets applicable water quality, testing and monitoring as determined by thelocal Municipality.
Current Legislative and Regulatory Requirements
The Plumbing code regulation allow approved reclaimed wastewater systems to be used for toilet and urinal flushing or subsurface irrigation. The Alberta Building Code (ABC) and the National Plumbing Code (NPC), which is adopted for use in Alberta, requires every sanitary drainage system including the drains from every sink, bathtub, shower and washing machine, to be connected to a public sanitary sewer, a public combined sewer or a private sewage disposal system, other than approved reclaimed wastewater system with clearly defined water quality.
The purpose of these requirements is to limit the risk to our health and protect groundwater from contamination. Any plumbing system that does not meet these requirements is in contravention of these codes and may present a risk to public and environmental health.
Development of water quality and technical standards and guidelines will help ensure that using reclaimed wastewater is consistent with objectives of the ABC and NPC. These codes are intended to limit the probability that as a result of the design or installation of the plumbing system or the design or constructrion of the building:
- a person in or adjacent to the building or facility will be exposed to an unacceptable risk of injury due to hazards. The risks of injury due to hazards addressed in this Code are those caused by exposure to hazardous substances (Objectives NPC and ABC OS3.4);
- a person in the building or facility will be exposed to an unacceptable risk of illness due to unsanitary conditions. The risks of illness due to unsanitary conditions addressed in this Code are those caused by exposure to human or domestic waste, consumption of contaminated water and/or contact with contaminated surfaces (Objectives NPC and ABC OH2.4); and
- a person will be exposed to an unacceptable risk of illness due to unhygienic conditions. The risks of unhygienic conditions addressed in this Code are those caused by exposure to disease-causing micro-organisms (Objective ABC OH11).
For additional information about using reclaimed water in Alberta, please contact the Public Safety Division of Alberta Municipal Affairs, at 1-866-421-6929.