NEW Nexus Toolkit by Barrier

The following is an expanded excerpt from our team’s white paper Opportunities for Achieving Next Generation Water Infrastructure in California, Oregon, and Washington. The Nutrient-Energy-Water/NEW Nexus Toolkit is sponsored by the Rosin Fund of the Scherman Foundation and was created under a collaborative grant with International Living Future Institute (ILFI) and Oregon Environmental Council. It will be developed over the course of our grant, which ends in 2019. This toolkit will help public and private-sector professionals find resources on onsite water reuse systems created through our grant and by others. You may also browse resources by Audience and Resource Type.

Top Ten Barriers and Possible Solution Pathways

The barriers and solution pathways documented here reflect the views of our interviewees and may not be equitable solutions in all cases. We encourage you to explore these recommendations with members of disinvested communities to develop strategies for incorporating greater equity and averting unintended consequences.



There is no consensus or readily available guidance on when and where different water system technologies are appropriate.

Map the best opportunities where decentralized water strategies could be useful for a specific locale due to pressing water infrastructure issues like sewer overflows or drought. Such a map would help municipalities and water utilities better communicate to owners and developers where and what kind of water technologies would help address local issues. Document and share the methodology to create a map of local hotspots.


More data is needed on the operational performance of newer water reuse technologies (like large non-potable water reuse systems).

Create a database to share performance data on new and existing technologies. Make this a living database which demonstrates the performance of all systems (conventional and next generation) to real events. This performance evaluation database will provide an effective, quantified approach to infrastructure planning.

This is currently under development under this grant.



Financial motivators for innovative water systems largely don’t exist, and don’t equitably distribute funds between the stakeholders.



Water is a major expense and an intensely variable one. Case studies would be helpful. Ultimately it would be good to demonstrate that water saving strategies should be a policy priority worth the extra expense up front.”

–         Erik Pattison, Housing Developer for ROSE Community Development

There’s a social justice aspect to water utilities having the same ongoing costs; those who can’t afford to upgrade to these new on-site systems are footing the bill for maintaining the municipal infrastructure. No city I know of has ever separated out these services they’re providing for users.”

–          Colleen Mitchell, Herrera  Environmental Consultants

a) Municipal/County Scale: Clarify where decentralized approaches would help municipal water quality, quantity, resiliency, and other goals. Provide trainings and other technical support.

Create appropriate incentives to encourage adoption of next generation water including ideas like:

  • Replicate the Living Building Challenge Pilot Program in Seattle
  • Create a community of water that promotes a lifestyle around water culture and identify (includes a numerical goal, upward positive pressure, round table, supports innovation)
  • Offer a capital offset for developers, extra density, or area allowances
  • Separate incentives from the buildings
  • Require water reuse (e.g. San Francisco Public Utility Commission’s Non-Potable Water Program)

b) Utility Providers: Monetize the cost of water while providing every person/household with a subsistence/baseline volume of water for free (5.3 gallons of safe potable water per person per day per World Health Organization recommendation)

c) Developers and Owners:

  • Create financial case studies for next-generation water precedents. How have other projects made the case, what has been the actual return on investment?
  • Create grant programs to incentivize hardware investments. Include a report on how other city’sgrant programs have benefited their area.
  • Create funding streams tied to the title of the home, similar to PACE for solar, low flow water fixtures, and energy upgrades.

d) Practitioners: For water capture, reuse, and treatment practices, develop professional education and trainings for practitioners and evaluate how these systems can help their bottom line.

e) Public/Private Partnerships for Research and Development (R&D): Quantify and standardize costs for new technologies and systems to speed up innovation and demonstrate a regulation path. Higher education should be the research organization to demonstrate the technology to reduce utility R&D cost.

f) Building Appraisers: Educate them about the added value of on-site water systems so funding mechanisms support water reuse. Target seminars and talks to real estate and lending and banking institutions.



Some jurisdictions lack a management and regulatory structure for water provisioning and wastewater treatment at scales smaller than city scale but larger than single-family residential.

When jurisdictional water “champions” leave, institutional knowledge is lost.

a) In partnership with regulatory officials, draft a reasonable management model and regulatory pathway for projects between single-family residential and municipal water works while maintaining reasonable costs per user.

b) Draft an Ordinance Memorandum of Understanding that identifies and records responsibilities and who has what authority. Create a systems approach to coordinate central utilities and decentralized systems. Use lessons learned from the energy sector.

c) Provide “roadmaps” that explain the regulatory process for different thresholds (e.g. number of units or project size).

d) Support adoption of a performance code to replace or sit alongside the current prescriptive regulations.

e) Develop a monitoring metric scaled to the project size that is practical and cost-effective to implement such as a “Miniscale Operator License” for daily/weekly activities with support from more highly trained individuals for monthly and more technical activities.

f) Make the case to jurisdictions that includes compelling value propositions related to resilience, health, combined sewer overflow, flood damage, downstream waste cost.

g) Remove the “undue hardship” regulatory requirement and the “high performance” incentive during the permit process.

h) Provide staff with incentives to adopt regulations:

  • Checklist tools
  • Use a “safety valve” approach so small cities can send to state for review and approval similar to the Underground Injection Control and 1200-C construction permits for stormwater)


We lack a larger vision for next generation water.


Decentralized water reuse and centralized water infrastructure practitioners need to start thinking collaboratively at a watershed scale. We need to discover the optimal scale and integration for both decentralized and centralized water reuse while recognizing that it will likely differ from watershed to watershed throughout the state.”

–          Debbie Franco, California Governor’s Office of Planning and Research

a) Create high-level (possibly state level) goals to support and catalyze local initiatives. For example, “5% of all urban water is generated from on-site reuse.”

b) Re-value the true cost of water to quantify the cost impact that development projects have on downstream pollution and upstream treatment. See #3 True Value of Water above.

c) Encourage larger paradigm shifts across all agencies (e.g. US Water Alliance ‘One Water’ movement) grounded in watershed health and sustainability. Shift from waste management to resource management attitude and approach. Clarify the comparative long-term public health risk of on-site treatment compared to municipal treatment.

d) Develop regional alliances. Share local level successes.

e) Need higher level goals appropriate for bioregions and globally that are still watershed health based.

f) Provide incremental goals to achieve paradigm shift, breaking up the steps for local jurisdictions. Rank and prioritize code changes.

g) Set targets and enforce and regulate these.

h) Increase public awareness regarding the consequences of maintaining the status quo as it relates to water use (e.g. ad campaign exposing the dangers of water resource depletion showing examples of other countries or communities who have failed to address the issues and the result of inaction.) Match a small dose of fear and big dose of hope to an action that’s do-able.



We lack a national standard for treatment and reuse of non-potable water adopted by all states.

a) A national standard and framework for reuse of non-potable water adopted by all states.

  • Existing Resource: In 2017, the National Blue Ribbon Commission to Accelerate the Adoption of Onsite Water Reuse created recommended guidelines for non-potable water reuse for health departments and actionable recommendations for consideration by the US EPA. They also foster state-level peer exchange and learning among water utilities and state public health agencies that are working to establish standards and practices for on-site water reuse.
  • Existing Resource: IAPMO’s Water Efficiency and Sanitation Standard (WE•Stand) will publish as an American National Standard, replacing the Green Plumbing and Mechanical Code Supplement. The publication of WE•Stand is noteworthy, as it is the first-ever ANSI standard that focuses solely on achieving safe and efficient water use in both residential and non-residential buildings. 

b) Develop a task force to track federal government actions to organize “resistance” efforts and “support” efforts by the community as appropriate and timely. We cannot let the divisive agenda of our federal government undermine the progress that has been and must continue to be made at the state and county level and at the federal level.



Jurisdictions inconsistently interpret existing rules due to a lack of consistent regulations for different types of water and nutrient reuse (blackwater, greywater, rainwater, stormwater, compost, etc.).

a) Work with regulators to create state-specific roadmaps to next generation water with links to additional resources to help agencies explain how current regulations work and save projects time and frustration.

b) Create and normalize terms for different types of water across jurisdictions (plumbing, environmental health, etc.).

c) Create consistent permit pathways for water collection, treatment, and reuse projects at all scales.

  • Available Resource: The National Blue Ribbon Commission for Onsite Non-potable Water Systems have developed model regulations and local programs. See 4 Regulatory Pathways above for direct links to specific documents.


The public lacks confidence in water and wastewater treatment systems and possesses overarching misconceptions around health and sanitation.

a) Share ways to combat the public health concerns related to water and nutrient reuse systems. For example, a guide and webinar on how to address the most common concerns about composting toilets.

b) Targeted education campaign about the safety of water reuse for a specific jurisdiction to show where the low hanging fruit projects are for that area and explain the local supply and treatment issues. Glorify the process of water reuse as “Purified Water” and make the concept sound more attractive to the general public.



Agencies lack the organizational capacity for program management.

If jurisdictions lack the financial resources, staff or other internal components to effectively adopt new building codes for health, safety or sustainability, then they need to have the ability to adopt or delegate their authority (e.g. to the state or federal government) to a method that allows change to occur.



Technology & industry need further development.


a) Need NSF certified products.

b) Performance standards are needed to allow alternative treatment trains.

c) Develop an expert practitioner database so that project teams and building owners can easily source out and hire water consultants to help solve design challenges within their region.

d) Support the development of off-the-shelf solutions that have been tested and approved by brand name manufacturers to reduce risk at all scales, similar to buying an off-the-shelf water delivery system such as a faucet, toilet, shower head, dehumidifier, coffee maker, water dispensing refrigerator etc. These product examples all pose potential health risks to those using them, yet there is very little concern among the public due to a high level of trust in the products and manufacturers supporting them. How many typical buyers check to see if the water dispensing system on the refrigerator they are considering buying at Home Depot is NSF certified etc., yet it is highly likely that this water dispensing refrigerator will serve as the sole source from which the buyer will drink water from on a daily basis.