By Robert P. Madeer
Of CONTRACTOR'S staff
SACRAMENTO, CALIF. — The Plumbing Manufacturers Institute has partnered with California Rep. John Laird to establish a multi-year phase-in of high-efficiency toilets that use 1.28-gal. per flush or less. PMI has decided to be an active proponent of water conservation, surmising that the California law will serve as a model for eventual federal regulation.
The California Bill is A.B. 715. It is expected to pass, said Steve Lehtonen, executive manager of the California Plumbing-Heating-Cooling Contractors.
PMI is proposing that California law should require fixture manufacturers to provide a portion of toilet and urinal models that are high efficiency on a five-year schedule, starting with 50% of fixtures offered for sale in 2010. The proportion of high-efficiency toilets increases to 67% in 2011, 75% in 2012, 85% in 2013 and 100% — except for institutional toilets — in 2014.
PMI's proposal has received mixed reaction from plumbing contractors. While Lehtonen's group is on board as one of A.B. 715's supporters, the idea was panned by the board of directors of Plumbing-Heating-Cooling Contractors – National Association. Still feeling burned by the awkward introduction of 1.6gpf toilets in the early ‘90s, the PHCC-NA board sees the introduction of high-efficiency toilets as something for which contractors will get the blame if they don't work properly.
PMI Executive Director Barb Higgens wrote to Ike Casey, executive vice president of PHCC-NA, on May 29 to ask for the contractors' support.
The PHCC-NA board worried that high-efficiency toilets will not put out enough water to create proper flow through old sewer mainlines and through sewage treatment plants, said PHCC-NA President Jo Rae Wagner of CTO Inc. in Harlingen, Texas. The board members noted there is no research to indicate what will happen to older sewage and water treatment infrastructure that was designed to work with greater quantities of water.
"We don't want to be in the same position of when 1.6-gpf toilets came out and the manufacturers were trying to play catch up, but contractors got the anger of their customers who couldn't get them to work," Wagner said. "Some of our members were hit tremendously with the 1.6 retrofit and lost a lot of money in that period, and the consumer wasn't any better off because they had to flush three or four times."
PHCC-NA is all in favor of water conservation, Wagner said, and the board heartily endorses dual-flush toilets. Moreover, if the country really wants to save water, it should repair leaking water service lines, which may lose up to three times as much water as can be saved by using high-efficiency toilets, Wagner noted. The board believes highefficiency toilets work in the home, she said, but board members worry that they won't work downstream with the existing infrastructure.
"The vote was unanimous," Wagner said. "We didn't have anybody who said they'd go along with this."
"There was a great amount of concern on the board, including myself, on the effect low-flow toilets will have on main sewer lines and on sewage treatment plants," said PHCC-NA President-elect Jim Finley of C.N. Finley Co. in New Orleans. "We support the green concept, but we're afraid these toilets will cause downstream problems that nobody has investigated. Sewage treatment plants are made for a set amount of water, as well as the main sewer lines. There may be infrastructure problems that nobody has investigated and no data that can say that they won't cause problems. That's why the board unanimously said that this should be investigated first."
According to a Website for the California legislature, the bill is supported by water and sewage treatment entities, including the Association of California Water Agencies, California American Water, East Bay Municipal Utility District, Marina Coast Water District, Metropolitan Water District of Southern California, Monterey Peninsula Water Management District, San Diego County Water Authority, San Francisco Public Utilities Commission, Santa Clara Valley Water District and the Sonoma County Water Agency
Higgens said PMI was surprised that PHCC-NA did not support A.B. 715, although she surmised it was a hangover from the Energy Policy Act of 1992 that mandated 1.6-gpf toilets and that was enacted, she noted, without input from anyone in the plumbing industry. In this case, members of PMI have reached consensus and pledge that the products will be available and function properly, she said.
"Our view is that this is coming down the pike and that there will be more pressure to conserve water in the future," she said. "We wanted to work with the legislature to come up with a timetable that we can work with."
Lehtonen said high-efficiency toilet legislation on either a state or national basis is inevitable.
"I think this train has left the station," Lehtonen said.
Given that, it's imperative that plumbing contractors be part of the solution, he said.
"We want to be on that side of the equation," Lehtonen said. "All of the evidence looks like our industry needs to be involved in protecting the resources of the planet."
Lehtonen predicted that A.B. 715 will pass, but it will meet resistance from the California Building Standards Commission, which thinks that it, not the state legislature, should determine what plumbing fixtures are used in California. Supporters of the bill will have to lobby Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger to make sure he signs the bill, Lehtonen said.