Water conservation and our customers

Oct. 18, 2017
I worry about the future of water conservation, at least with residential customers.

I worry about the future of water conservation, at least with residential customers. It seems like it’s been a slog since the passage of the Energy Policy Act of 1992 brought on a whole bunch of 1.6-GPF water closets that didn’t work. Since then, the fixtures and fittings have gotten a lot better, thanks to the WaterSense program mandating performance requirements, but most water conserving plumbing products are sold because they’re required by law. In too many areas of the country, it’s raining and/or water is cheap.

In a feature that ran in our August issue, our contributor Kelly Faloon found out that homeowner awareness and demand for water conserving products depends on the geography. In California, everyone is aware.

But in Charlotte, N.C., homeowners are still reluctant to make the switch, said Paul Stefano, general manager of plumbing franchise Benjamin Franklin Plumbing of Charlotte. They don’t want to change out their toilet unless it’s beyond repair.

“We live on Lake Michigan, plus most of our customers have private wells,” explains Julie Wieman, president of MacGregor Plumbing in Harbor Springs, Michigan. “Our town is on top of about 1,000 artesian wells; we have some of the best drinking water in the world. So, no, we don’t get requests from customers about water-saving fixtures.”

'WaterSense has transformed water efficiency in the U.S. saving 2.1 trillion gallons of water and $46.3 billion in water and energy bills'

We, that is, the industry, are trying our best, especially by advocating for the WaterSense program. In July, in response to lobbying by the International Association of Plumbing and Mechanical Officials, the High-Performance Buildings Coalition, Plumbing Manufacturers International, the Alliance for Water Efficiency, and other industry partners, the U.S. House of Representatives' Interior Appropriations Subcommittee, which oversees funding for the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, issued its Fiscal Year 2018 agency funding report rejecting the proposed elimination of the EPA’s WaterSense program.

PMI reported that a delegation of its member manufacturers urged lawmakers to support bipartisan measures to ensure that the WaterSense program is preserved and codified, including the Clean Safe Reliable Water Infrastructure Act (S. 1137), Water Efficiency Improvement Act of 2017 (S. 1700), and Water Advanced Technologies for Efficient Resource Use Act of 2017 (H.R. 3248).

“In slightly more than a decade, WaterSense has transformed water efficiency in the U.S. — saving 2.1 trillion gallons of water and $46.3 billion in water and energy bills,” said Kerry Stackpole, PMI CEO/executive director.

I would note that Stephanie Tanner, lead engineer for the WaterSense program at EPA, has administered the program for about $3 million a year (if that) and saved $46.3 billion in water and energy.

“Plumbing manufacturers have developed 21,000 WaterSense-labeled product models, including toilets, showerheads and faucets,” Stackpole continued. “WaterSense is a federal program that works — it has achieved quantifiable water and energy savings, a rave review from the EPA inspector general, and bipartisan support.”

Commercial and institutional customers have much more to worry about because they’re paying for tens of thousands of gallons. In our September issue, H.W. “Bill” Hoffman, P.E., covered water use in cooling towers, hot water systems, medical/dental vacuum systems and commercial icemakers.

“The fact that water and wastewater costs are increasing much faster than energy costs will have a major impact on future decisions concerning all types of equipment and appliances that use both water and energy,” Hoffman wrote.

Perhaps someday those rising costs will persuade homeowners too.

About the Author

Robert P. Mader

Bob Mader is the Editorial Director for Penton's mechanical systems brands, including CONTRACTOR magazine, Contracting Business and HPAC Engineering, all of which are part of Penton’s Energy and Buildings Group. He has been  with CONTRACTOR since 1984 and with Penton since 2001. His passions are helping contractors improve their businesses, saving energy and the issue of safeguarding our drinking water. He is a graduate of the University of Notre Dame with an A.B. in American Studies with a Communications Concentration.

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