Has Water Efficiency Worked?

water efficiency

Back in 1992, The Energy Policy Act of 1992, a bipartisan bill passed by Congress and later signed into law by President George H. Bush, set national standards, requiring toilet and urinal manufacturers to reduce the amount of water their fixtures used per flush. Before the law, both fixtures used two to three gallons of water per flush, sometimes more.

With the law enforced, this was reduced to 1.6 gallons per flush for toilets and one gallon per flush for urinals.

Before the act, there were a “patchwork” of standards. Some states had their own regulations and even some cities within those states had their own sets of rules and requirements when it came to how much water a fixture could use per flush. This law helped unify the nation, at least when it came to water.

So, now it’s been 25 years. How effective has this been? Are we using less water today than 25 years ago?

Well, the first thing we should know is that water consumption was on an upward spiral since the 1940s. It became clear that with a growing population and with each person and every household using more and more water, a tipping point would soon be reached when water utilities just could not keep up with water demand.

However, the 1992 law helped us avert that tipping point. A study by the Journal of the American Water Works Association reported that by 2008, the typical American, single-family household used 32 fewer gallons of water day than the same house in 1978. Based on today’s average charged for water, this is a saving of about $90 per month per household.

But that’s not the end of the story. From 1999 to 2016, water use in the U.S. dropped further, 22 percent nationwide for the average household. Much of this was the result of more water efficient clothes washers, dishwashers, and indeed toilets. And coming years look even brighter when it comes to reducing water consumption. When the 2016 study

was published, it was assumed that only 37 percent of American households had these more water efficient appliances and fixtures.

While these studies did not document water consumption used in commercial facilities such as schools and office buildings, it is known that consumption has decreased here as well. Not so much as a result of clothes washers and dishwashers, but more specifically the effect of high-efficient toilets that use less than the Federally mandated water requirements, and the more common use of waterless urinals, that use no water whatsoever.

Will these water consumption numbers keep coming down? If it is up to the Federal government, possibly the answer is no. The current budget for the EPA under President Trump calls for the elimination of the WaterSense program, which spearheaded many of these water consuming reductions.

But if it is up to private industry, those manufacturers making these water reducing toilets and appliances and no water urinals, the answer is likely yes. The reason for this is simple: customer demand. It appears that at least when it comes to using water more efficiently, the Federal government is marching to one set of drums and private industry, schools, colleges, and building owners are marching to another.

It may not even be an environmental issue as much as it is a cost consideration. With water and sewer rates going up dramatically, building owners and managers want to help moderate these rates. The best way to do this is to select fixtures that use water more efficiently.