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INTERNATIONAL
CODE COUNCIL
When Sustainability, Safety and Politics Collide
Lessons Learned from California Assembly Bill AB275


Every now and then a cautionary tale appears that illustrates a larger point perfectly. California Assembly Bill AB275 is an example of one of those cases. As sustainability grows in importance and acceptance, the temptation to hijack it in the name of profits or politics can be impossible for some to resist. What’s often at stake is no less than public safety and the credibility of the green building movement. This recent bill illustrates the point.


Early in 2011 Assembly Bill 275, the Rainwater Capture Act of 2011, California Assemblyman Jose Solorio introduced the proposed legislation. Its stated intent was to increase rainwater harvesting and use in California to reduce the strain on the state’s water supply system, and simultaneously reduce runoff and the associated pollution. Given California’s water needs, and storm water runoff challenges, the value and appeal was obvious. A long list of organizations lined up to support the bill and it moved easily through early hearings and votes.


However, as organizations including the International Code Council, examined it more closely, concerns began to emerge.


The bill contained adequate safety protections for rainwater systems providing water for use indoors, but almost none for systems providing rainwater for outdoor uses. This meant that little or no protection was provided for algae control, back flow prevention, tank lid locking for child safety, and exclusion of vermin like snakes, rats and frogs from tanks on systems providing water for outdoor use. Further, AB275, which called for rainwater harvesting from parking surfaces for use outdoors, referenced a code supplement which prohibited that practice, setting up an internal conflict within the bill, a conflict that code enforcement officials would have to address if the bill became law.


Facing health concerns and contradictory language in the bill, the Code Council and other organizations proposed remedies to AB275 that would have solved both problems. They proposed that AB275 also reference the International Green Construction Code® (IgCC®), which contains an extensive rainwater collection section, or the American Rainwater Catchment Association (ARCSA) Rainwater Design and Installation Guidelines for outdoor systems. Doing so would have resolved both problems.


 

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