Five years ago, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) launched WaterSense, a volunteer partnership program that promotes water efficiency to protect the nation’s water supply. Targeting manufacturers and consumers alike, the program has had an impact on the way Americans view water use. Leslie Streicher, associate editor of Water Quality Products, checked in with program leader Veronica Blette to learn about the motivation behind our changing water culture and what water efficiency means today.
Leslie Streicher: How is the WaterSense program performing?
Veronica Blette: We measure success in several ways. As of the beginning of May, we have more than 3,700 products in the four primary product categories and are beginning to see labeled homes. We are happy to have more than 2,000 promotional partners and irrigation professionals.
Our program philosophy has not changed [since the beginning]—we still look for opportunities where we can achieve national water savings by issuing specifications that improve efficiency by at least 20% without sacrificing performance.
We estimate that the products shipped with the WaterSense label through 2009 helped save more than 46 billion gal [of water] and $343 million in water and sewer bills. Those kinds of numbers are good for the environment and the pocketbook.
Streicher: What is unnecessary water consumption and how does it affect the environment?
Blette: Hosing down a sidewalk instead of sweeping it, letting a hose run water down the drain, watching a tap running while a person turns to do something else—failure to value water affects the environment, industry and society. It reflects a culture of wastefulness that cannot be supported.
Water resources throughout the world are challenged by population growth, drought, climate change and competition for resources. WaterSense can help increase public awareness and give the public simple things it can do to improve efficiency.
Streicher: What can people do to be water efficient?
Blette: It could be as easy as turning off the tap when brushing their teeth. And once people start looking for the small things, I believe they will find that they can be more efficient in other ways. Every little drop helps. Lacking outdoor water, I have taken to reusing dish water for watering my container plants.
I just want to emphasize how important and easy it is for people to save water indoors, outdoors and at work. It’s as simple as looking for the WaterSense label, trying a water-saving behavior and visiting the WaterSense website. As a voluntary program, we rely on and appreciate the efforts of manufacturers, retailers and other promotional partners who are helping us carry this message to the public.
Streicher: How does water efficiency benefit manufacturers?
Blette: Manufacturers see an economic advantage. In addition to making and selling water-efficient products, they are also looking to improve water efficiency in their own operations. We believe that industries are increasingly aware that failing to be more water efficient can increase risk and place them at an economic disadvantage.
Additionally, water efficiency can benefit customers because they will see the savings reflected in their monthly utility bills.
Streicher: How has our country’s water culture changed over the years?
Blette: People can be resistant to change because it conflicts with cultural norms. I grew up in the Southwest, and like most of our neighbors, we had a nice lawn because that’s what our parents had [when they lived on the East Coast]. But people became more aware that they were living in a desert and that [maintaining a lawn] was not the smartest use of their resources. Now people have beautiful landscapes that are appropriate for the arid climate.
Streicher: How do you see the program evolving over the next decade?
Blette: WaterSense has a role to play in advancing water efficiency, but when you look at how water is used in the country, we know that we cannot be the only player. Other federal agencies, including the Department of the Interior, Department of Agriculture and Department of Energy, have programs that are also seeking to improve water efficiency.
We are all working together to raise awareness about how water is used. Water does not know geographical, political or sectarian boundaries, so we shouldn’t either. As water resources become stretched and stressed, all levels of government, industry, business, non-profit sectors and the general public will need to collaborate to ensure water security in the future.