By Robert P. Mader
Of Contractor's Staff
SAN ANTONIO — U.S. Environmental Protection Agency Administrator Stephen L. Johnson announced in mid-June that the agency will start a water conservation labeling program that will include plumbing fixtures. Johnson announced the WaterSense program, which is similar in concept to Energy Star, at the American Water Works Association-convention here.
The WaterSense program aims to raise awareness about the importance of water efficiency, ensure the performance of water-efficient products and provide good consumer information. The WaterSense label will be on products and services that perform at least 20% more efficiently than their less efficient counterparts.
Toilets, the first plumbing product to be labeled, will have to flush at least 350 grams of solid waste using no more than 1.28 gal. per flush.
Easily corrected household water leaks frequently rob consumers of 8% of their water bill, according to EPA, with landscape irrigation being a big source of that loss. The average household adopting water-efficient products and practices can save 30,000 gal. per year, according to the agency, enough to supply a year of drinking water for 150 of their neighbors.
Manufacturers can certify that these products meet EPA criteria for water efficiency and performance by following testing protocols specific to each product category. In addition, products will be independently tested to ensure EPA specifications are met. These products will be available to consumers and businesses early next year.
Seattle Mayor Greg Nickels asked EPA to set up a water conservationlabeling program several years ago. EPA decided the idea had merit and began the process.
An ad hoc steering committee of stakeholders has guided EPA's efforts since 2003. The committee is composed of businesses, drinking water utilities, environmental advocates, and others, including American Standard, Kohler Co., TOTO USA, Waterless Co., the Association of Metropolitan Water Agencies, Friends of the Earth and Maytag Corp.
"Manufacturers will have new incentives to develop water-efficient products by participating in this voluntary labeling program," said Klaus Reichardt, managing partner of Waterless Co.
The EPA had a number of issues to work through over the past three years, said American Standard's Pete De-Marco, the committee's co-chairman, such as how to dovetail with the successful Energy Star program and not tarnish the Energy Star brand if the labeling program did not work.
The panel, in fact, rejected the name Water Star, in order to protect the Energy Star brand, said committee member Robert Zimmerman, Kohler senior staff engineer for water conservation.
Skeptical EPA staffers who remembered how badly 1.6-GPF toilets performed in the early 1990s had to be won over, said Lenora Campos, manager of media relations for TOTO.
Energy Star requires that labeled products save energy, perform at a high level and provide consumers with a payback, DeMarco noted. Plumbing fixtures can save water and perform well, he said, but he's not sure how EPA will handle the payback portion because water continues to cost less than gas and electricity.
Draft specifications for toilets are being reviewed now, and DeMarco said he expects them to be finalized by September.
Toilets will have to be tested against the specification by independent laboratories using the MaP test pioneered by Veritec Consulting, Zimmerman noted (March, pg. 1)
The test, Maximum Performance Testing of Popular Toilet Models, uses 50 gram, 4-in. long pieces of extruded bean curd encased in latex. Toilets are loaded in 50-gram increments until they fail to flush the load, and the top performers can flush a kilogram.