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.
Until this framework is established, reclaimed wastewater from any source cannot be used inside buildings or for other domestic applications in Alberta.
Current Legislative and Regulatory Requirements
The Environmental Protection and Enhancement Act requires that an approval be obtained before using treated wastewater from a municipal wastewater treatment plant for irrigation or any other purpose.
The Alberta Wastewater and Storm Drainage Regulation administered by Alberta Environment provides for the ministry to issue site-specific approvals for systems that reuse treated municipal wastewater for irrigation on agricultural lands and other large facilities such as golf courses, but these provisions do not apply to residential irrigation with reclaimed wastewater.
Current safety codes do not allow reclaimed wastewater to be used inside any buildings. The Alberta Building Code and the National Plumbing Code, which is used in Alberta, require all plumbing systems, including the drains from every sink, bathtub, shower and washing machine, to be directly connected to a sanitary drainage system. Every sanitary drainage system must be connected to a public sanitary sewer or an approved private sewage treatment system.
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 twill ensure that using reclaimed wastewater is consistent with objectives of the Alberta Building Code (ABC) and National Plumbing Code (NPC). These codes are intended to limit the probability that:
- as a result of the design or installation of the plumbing system, 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);
- as a result of the design or installation of the plumbing system, 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
- as a result of the design or construction of the building, 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 the working group and using reclaimed water in Alberta, please contact the Public Safety Division of Alberta Municipal Affairs, at 1-866-421-6929.