Kerry Stackpole, FASAE/CAE, is CEO and executive director of Plumbing Manufacturers Intl. Stackpole can be reached at [email protected].
Update 11/7/18: Since this article went to press, President Donald J. Trump signed American's Water Infrastructure Act of 2018, authorizing the WaterSense program in perpetuity.
For the past two years, water industry organizations and professionals concerned about the sustainability of America’s water resources have worked hard to preserve and maintain the U.S. EPA’s WaterSense program. Now, thanks to bipartisan support and the EPA Office of Inspector General’s glowing review of the program, the future of WaterSense seems more secure.
In September, America’s Water Infrastructure Act of 2018, which included a provision authorizing WaterSense, was passed by the House of Representatives. On Oct. 10, 2018, the Senate passed the legislation. President Donald J. Trump’s signature will make the legislation law. Achieving authorization will permanently extend the successful water efficiency product labeling program.
After the Trump administration proposed cutting WaterSense in 2017, House and Senate lawmakers called for the program’s continued funding. In addition, the EPA Office of Inspector General deemed the program “a sound model for voluntary programs” in an August 2017 report that evaluated the accuracy of the program’s annual accomplishments and the program’s claims of water and energy savings.
The WaterSense program has gained bipartisan support because it is an example of an effective collaboration between industry and the government. Together, they determine voluntary water-efficient performance measures that can be used by industry and consumers, as well as by states and public and private agencies charged with supplying water to American households and businesses. The WaterSense label assures quality to plumbing product buyers, just as the Energy Star label assures appliance buyers.
As a voluntary program, WaterSense attracts the partnership of private and public organizations wishing to promote the benefits of water efficiency. Today, more than 1,700 organizations comprised of manufacturers, retailers, distributors, utilities, water districts, trade associations, government agencies, nonprofit organizations, professional certifying organizations, builders and licensed certification providers participate as WaterSense partners.
Water & Energy Savings
As the U.S. trade association for the plumbing fixtures and fittings manufacturing industry, PMI represents members that produce 90% of all plumbing products in the U.S. and represent more than 150 brands. For PMI and its nearly 40 members, the WaterSense program has spurred innovation in water-efficient products.
American plumbing manufacturers have created more than 27,000 EPA-certified WaterSense products, including more than 15,000 faucets, 6,500 showerheads and 3,100 toilets. These plumbing fixtures and fittings saved 631 billion gal of water in 2017 and more than 2.7 trillion gal since 2006, when the program began. WaterSense products also have reduced the energy needed to heat, pump and treat water by 367 billion kilowatt hours—enough energy to supply a year’s worth of power to almost 25% of U.S. homes.
These products have become particularly vital in California and other regions affected by drought and regional population growth—conditions occurring in virtually every state. Forty of 50 states expect water shortages over the next 10 years, according to the results of a poll of state water managers by the Government Accountability Office. Some states have adopted WaterSense standards as requirements in new construction or remodeling, and various states and local water districts offer rebates for purchasing WaterSense products.
A Slow Go
Despite the urgent need to save water and the many easy-to-find WaterSense products available, consumers and businesses have been slow to purchase and install them, according to a study conducted by GMP Research Inc. and commissioned by PMI.
The study found that only 6.7% of the nation’s residential and commercial toilets were WaterSense toilets using 1.28 gal per flush (gpf). Only 25.4% of bathroom faucets met the WaterSense standard of 1.5 gal per minute (gpm) and 28.7% of showerheads met the WaterSense standard of 2 gpm. In addition to meeting water-efficiency standards, plumbing products bearing the WaterSense label meet EPA criteria for product performance, as well.
To earn the WaterSense label, a toilet must pass the test of flushing 350 grams of soybean paste with a flush of 1.28 gal of water or less—20% less water than the current federal standard maximum of 1.6 gpf. WaterSense-certified toilets also must have a chemical-resistant flush valve flapper or seal to prevent leaks over time.
WaterSense lavatory faucets must have a flow of no more than 1.5 gpm at 60 psi of water pressure. They must also have no less than 0.8 gpm at 20 psi of water pressure to ensure they provide adequate flow for handwashing.
Showerheads that earn the WaterSense label must demonstrate that they use no more than 2 gpm at the allowable flow rate. In addition to the water-efficiency criteria, WaterSense showerheads must meet three key performance attributes identified through consumer testing: spray force, spray coverage, and flow rate across a range of pressures.
As America faces increasing pressures caused by climate change and population growth, saving water will be more of a necessity than a good deed. WaterSense products are effective technologies that have so far been underutilized. To spur their purchase by more consumers and businesses, PMI supports offering tax and other incentives.
Imagine saving enough water to raise the level of Lake Superior by 5 in. That is how much water 2.75 trillion gal of water is, according to a story on the Michigan Live website, and that is at least how much WaterSense products have saved since 2006. WaterSense products also have saved Americans enough energy to power the homes and businesses built around this lake for years. Replacing older toilets, showerheads and faucets with WaterSense products can save water and power on an even grander scale. We have only begun along the path toward making water a sustainable resource for generations of Americans.