Inaugural WaterSmart conference a huge success

Organizers of the inaugural WaterSmart Innovations Conference here were hoping for 1,000 attendees and 1,200 showed up. The conference featured seminar sessions by plumbing experts such as engineers John Koeller and Bill Gauley, eight hour days of GreenPlumbersUSA training sessions, EPA WaterSense awards for Kohler and Ferguson Enterprises, and a full-blown trade show.

Las Vegas - Organizers of the inaugural WaterSmart Innovations Conference here were hoping for 1,000 attendees and 1,200 showed up. The conference featured seminar sessions by plumbing experts such as engineers John Koeller and Bill Gauley, eight hour days of GreenPlumbersUSA training sessions, EPA WaterSense awards for Kohler and Ferguson Enterprises, and a full-blown trade show.

Participants from 42 states and the District of Columbia as well as 17 foreign nations attended the WaterSmart Innovations Conference and Exposition in mid-October at the South Point Hotel and Casino. Southern Nevada Water was a major sponsor and the utility agreed to sponsor the event a second time next October, also at the South Point. SNWA partnered with the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency's WaterSense program, the Alliance for Water Efficiency and others.

WSI offered 150 professional sessions in a variety of tracks as well as an expo hall featuring nearly 140 exhibitors that included AcornVac, American Standard, Caroma, Evolve Showerheads, Ferguson, Fluidmaster, Geberit/Chicago Faucet, Grundfos, IAPMO, J.R. Smith, Kohler, Niagara, PF Waterworks, Sloan, Toto, Waterless, Watts Premier and Zurn.

“We're thrilled that such a broad cross-section of disciplines — from water agency officials to elected leaders, landscape professionals, golf course supervisors and water-use consultants — connected to make WSI a success,” said program Chairman Doug Bennett, conservation manager of the Southern Nevada Water Authority.

Benjamin Grumbles, assistant administrator of the EPA's Office of Water, presented the first WaterSense Partner of the Year Awards during the conference's keynote luncheon Oct. 9 and two of the four winners were industry stalwarts.

Kohler is still on the cutting edge of water-efficient technology, having earned the WaterSense label for numerous models of high-efficiency toilets, Grumbles noted.

Kohler was singled out for helping to build WaterSense “buzz” through its active promotion of WaterSense labeled products on the trade show circuit, on its Web site, and through noteworthy publicity events, including the Charmin Holiday Restrooms in New York City's Times Square. In partnership with Procter & Gamble, Kohler provided 20 WaterSense labeled toilets in luxurious portable restrooms strategically placed for shoppers in one of Manhattan's busiest areas during the 2007 holiday season. As a result, an estimated half-million visitors in Times Square experienced firsthand the high-performing, water-efficient WaterSense labeled toilets.

Plumbing wholesaler Ferguson was named a WaterSense Partner of the Year for its work developing water-efficient plumbing fixtures for its private label ProFlo product line in 2007. That same year, Ferguson went on to sell thousands of WaterSense labeled toilets to contractors, plumbers, builders, and a rising number of homeowners and remodelers.

To help drive consumer traffic toward water-efficient fixtures, Ferguson uses point of purchase displays and has made an effort to work with municipalities to stay abreast of rebate programs. Ferguson has speedily educated its staff of 22,000 associates in 1,400 service centers located in all 50 states about the benefits of water efficiency and WaterSense labeled products.

In an interview with CONTRACTOR, Grumbles said that the WaterSense program, which now boasts more than 1,000 partners, is healthy and growing and that it will eventually be the equal of the agency's Energy Star program.

The agency will release its WaterSense for Homes standard in early 2009, he said, and the agency is carefully considering comments by Plumbing-Heating-Cooling Contractors - National Association that plumbing contractors on WaterSense Homes must have some kind of credentials to assure their expertise. EPA does not have a date yet for release of its showerhead standard because of consumer satisfaction concerns, but “it's high on our agenda.”

“It's stunning when we add up all the numbers,” Grumbles said. “We still have 100 million water guzzling toilets in homes. I was stunned to learn that if we move to [high-efficiency 1.28 -gpf toilets], we will save 900 billion gallons of water per year. Consumers would save $500 million. That's just from toilets alone. We've got to get plumbers involved.”

Environmental training and accreditation program GreenPlumbers furthered its mission at WaterSmart by holding five free workshops over three days. The workshops encompassed 32 hours of continuing education for plumbers, including training on water conservation, climate care, solar hot water and new technologies. More than 450 plumbers and other industry professionals from more than 30 states attended the workshops and became accredited GreenPlumbers.

“We were pleased to build a successful relationship with GreenPlumbers,” said SNWA's Doug Bennett. “It is vital that the public sector and private sector work collaboratively to accelerate adoption of the best water efficiency technologies for homes and businesses. GreenPlumbersUSA is a vital link in promoting and delivering the best water efficiency technologies and techniques to the end user. This has been an ideal partnership.”

Stephanie Thornton, WaterSense partner outreach coordinator, says plumbers play a vital role in conservation. “Plumbers really are on the front lines of water efficiency, so we're excited to see such an overwhelming level of enthusiasm for the GreenPlumbers workshops.”

GreenPlumbers' participation in the WaterSmart conference marked the beginning of a new round of expansion for the accreditation program, as it makes inroads into Canada and continues to train plumbers across the U.S. GreenPlumbers has November workshops scheduled in California, Oregon, Wisconsin and Washington.

The GreenPlumbers program is open to all recognized plumbers and contractors. The program is partnered with the EPA's WaterSense program, the Alliance for Water Efficiency, the California Center for Sustainable Energy, the California Urban Water Conservation Council, and many more industry leaders in its mission of bringing environmental training to plumbers. Additional information is available at www.greenplumbersusa.com.

Next year's conference will be held Oct. 7-9, 2009, at the South Point Hotel and Conference Center. The deadline for submitting abstracts is Jan. 30, 2009. More information is available at www.WaterSmartInnovations.com.

Also partnering with the SNWA on WaterSmart Innovations were the Alliance for Water Efficiency, California Urban Water Conservation Council, the California-Nevada Section of the American Water Works Association, Irrigation Association, American Society of Irrigation Consultants, Audubon International, International Association of Plumbing and Mechanical Officials and International Center for Water Technology.

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