Low-Flow Toilet Law Needs No Fix

Published December 1, 1999

The summer heat wave that affected the East Coast and the Midwest, causing serious water shortages, serves to remind us all how important clean, safe water is to our health and comfort.

While hot, dry weather requires immediate efforts to save water, conserving this vital resource must remain on our minds even after the temperature cools.

Growing population and expanding development tax our nation’s water resources no matter the season. Without conservation, Americans could face a future where the supply of clean water is threatened by the demands placed upon it.

Luckily, conserving water isn’t hard.

Americans can make significant reductions in their personal water usage simply by fixing dripping faucets and leaking toilets. We also can save millions of gallons of water by making sure to run the dishwasher or clothes washer only when the machines are full, and by avoiding over-watering our lawns and gardens.

Perhaps the greatest savings, though, can be achieved by using water-saving plumbing fixtures, such as the 1.6-gallon toilet and reduced-flow showerheads. A provision of the Energy Policy Act of 1992 requires these fixtures to be installed in all homes built since 1996. They save the average household about 30 gallons of water per day–about 11,000 gallons per year.

Unfortunately, the performance of early models of the 1.6-gallon toilets left many consumers dissatisfied, prompting Representative Joe Knollenberg (R-Michigan) to introduce legislation to repeal the water-saving measure. However, plumbing manufacturers have improved the toilets with aggressive technological advances and design. As a result, today’s 1.6-gallon toilets save billions of gallons of water and have earned widespread consumer satisfaction.

In San Diego, 93 percent of residents surveyed reported that they were “satisfied” or “very satisfied” with the new toilets. These sentiments were echoed by individuals from Los Angeles to Tampa to New York, as well as by product inspectors working for Consumer Reports magazine. In its May 1998 issue, CR announced that it “had found several affordable low-flush toilets that work very well.”

And make no mistake, the water savings from the new toilets are significant. In the Detroit metropolitan area, the fixtures installed in new homes during 1998 alone save 412 million gallons of water annually. This reduces stress on water resources and delays the need to build expensive new water supply and treatment facilities, which could lead to increased water rates.

Better yet, less water usage means less money spent on utility bills right now. Depending on an area’s water rates, an American family can expect to save $100 a year by installing the efficient fixtures and employing other common-sense conservation techniques. In effect, the new toilets pay Americans back for saving water by saving them money.

Like all Americans, Knollenberg supports water conservation. Fortunately, the concerns that the Bloomfield Hills congressman and many Americans had about early versions of the 1.6-gallon toilets expedited the improved products that satisfy consumers. Given the new toilets’ high degree of customer satisfaction and the important water savings they provide, there is no need to repeal the plumbing efficiency standards.

Stephen Gorden is president of American Water Works Association, and director of the Detroit Water and Sewerage Department.