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When our magazines’ editors think about water conservation, the first thing that comes to mind are low-flow plumbing products. Obviously, such products save gallons and gallons of water every day.
But the best way to save even more water is through state laws that promote the efficiency of water in all its forms from source to user.
That’s the conclusion of a recent report from the Alliance for Water Efficiency and the Environmental Law Institute.
“While water efficiency and conservation efforts can be initiated by the federal government, regional entities, water providers, and even by customers, state-level initiatives are critical to the sustainable management of our nation’s fresh water resources,” states the Water Efficiency and Conservation State Scorecard.
States can require water suppliers to limit water loss, plan for drought, devise a strategy for improving water conservation, and bill customers in ways that promote water-use efficiency.
“States also are uniquely situated to build upon federal water efficiency requirements for some fixtures and appliances,” the report says. “In addition, state actions can spur developments in federal law and policy, moving the entire nation toward greater water use efficiency and conservation as well as more comprehensive climate adaptation planning.”
The scorecard gives every state in the union a letter grade for water efficiency and conservation progress. The report uses a point-system that determines the grade based on the answers to a 16-question survey. The laws and policies covered in the survey include plumbing fixture standards, water conservation requirements related to water rights, water loss control rules, conservation planning and program implementation, volumetric billing for water, funding sources for water efficiency and conservation programs, and technical assistance and other informational resources.
Brand-new to this year’s report were three questions on climate change with each state receiving an additional grade for those efforts. (For more information, see our sidebar on Climate Change.)
No state achieved a “100 percent,” but California and Texas were tops in the class with each receiving the only “A’s.” The two were also the only states five years ago to achieve top marks.
Although the nation as a whole received an average “C” for its collective efforts, the report notes plenty of progress among the states made since the last scorecard. There were more “A’s” and “B’s” this time, and more than half of the states earned higher grades than they did in 2012. (There were 17 states that received “D’s” – although that’s two fewer than last time. Also, 14 states received “C’s” – four fewer than five years ago.)
The most noticeable strides are among states that had already taken some steps in 2012 and kept adding to the efforts in the five years since.
“Perhaps more importantly, developments in water use efficiency and conservation laws were widespread,” writes Adam Schempp, senior attorney and director of the Western Water Program for the Environmental Law Institute in an April 18 blog post. “Leading states are still advancing; states with some legal foundation in this area made notable strides; and a few states from whom little was previously seen are taking promising steps.”
The topic areas that saw the most change were measures to control water loss and plan for droughts. Within each category, the report says, six states made advancements.
However, the report also examined topics near and dear to our readers.
“Of all the topic areas asked about, plumbing fixture and appliance standards and the related building and plumbing codes are arguably the easiest areas in which states could make improvements and pick up points,” the report states. “Improvements here require little investment and relatively little in the way of non-monetary resources, especially when compared with more labor-intensive efforts such as water loss control, technical assistance and funding for urban water conservation programs.”
Federal standards have dictated water efficiency standards for plumbing products since they were first enacted in the 1990s. By now, we all know by heart that the maximum flush rate for toilets, for example, has been 1.6 gallons per flush for residential products since 1994 and for commercial products since 1997.
But toilet technology has changed dramatically in 25 years. Today, high-efficiency toilets that use even less than 1.6 gpf are commonplace. For example, the EPA’s popular WaterSense labeling program has put its stamp of approval on more than 2,100 toilets that use only 1.28 gpf or less.
In addition to toilets, the WaterSense standard for urinals is 0.5 gpf and for showerheads is 2.0 gallons per minute (gpm) at 80 psi. The EPA says there are some 6,000 showerheads and almost 500 urinals that meet the WaterSense standard.
“These statistics are important because they demonstrate that the marketplace has a sufficient stock of well performing high-efficiency toilets that can meet more stringent efficiency standards,” the report says.
Basically, the survey asked whether states had tougher water standards than federal standards for toilets, urinals and showerheads. If so, they picked up points. And while most state laws focus on the point when the product is originally sold, states received extra credits if the plumbing products were subject to laws mandating outright replacement with more efficient versions.
According to the report, California, Georgia and Texas specify tougher efficiency standards in their state laws.
California and Texas, for example, require toilets that are offered for sale to have an average or effective flush volume of no more than 1.28 gpf, and they require urinals that are offered for sale not to exceed an average of 0.5 gpf. California further specifies that wall-mounted urinals that are offered for sale may not exceed an average of 0.125 gpf.
Georgia statutorily mandates the state minimum standard codes to require the installation of high-efficiency plumbing fixtures in all new construction. This requirement includes toilets with an average or effective flush volume of no more than 1.28 gpf and urinals with no more than an average of 0.5 gpf, but the statute also requires toilets to be “listed to the WaterSense Tank-Type High Efficiency Toilet Specification” and urinals to meet “all WaterSense specifications.”
California has also promulgated a regulation limiting the maximum flow rates of showerheads below the federal standard. Showerheads manufactured on or after July 1, 2016 must have a maximum flow rate of 2 gpm at 80 psi, and those manufactured on or after July 1, 2018 must have a maximum flow rate of 1.8 gpm at 80 psi.
In addition, California received extra credit for its statutorily mandated replacement of plumbing fixtures in all residential and commercial real property.
Colorado and Illinois, on the other hand, have linked their water efficiency requirements for toilets, urinals, showerheads, and other fixtures to the WaterSense standard.
A Colorado statute prohibits the sale of plumbing fixtures that are not WaterSense listed. An Illinois regulation requires the Illinois Department of Natural Resources to condition allocations of water from Lake Michigan on, among other things, evidence that the permittee has adopted ordinances mandating that new and replacement plumbing fixtures be labeled WaterSense products.
In this area, Georgia and New York have supplemented their state plumbing and building codes with water efficiency requirements for toilets, urinals, and lavatory faucets that are more stringent than the national standards.
Georgia, as noted above, requires the installation of high-efficiency plumbing fixtures in all new construction. But it goes further by also requiring them in the alteration of existing buildings, and even replacement of malfunctioning, unserviceable, or obsolete fixtures, regardless of the owner or location.
In addition to the provisions concerning toilets and urinals, Georgia sets a standard for lavatory faucets and lavatory replacement aerators at no more than 1.5 gallons of water per minute, and kitchen faucets with a flow rate at no more than 2.0 gpm. Current federal standards for both fixtures are 2.2 gpm. The standards for other fixtures match the federal standards.
Georgia also requires new multiunit residential buildings and new multiunit retail and light industrial buildings to be constructed so as to allow the measurement of water use by each unit.
New York also established a more stringent showerhead standard, and Georgia established a more stringent sink faucet standard.
California has adopted a green building standards code (CALGreen), and Texas has water conservation design standards for state buildings and institutions of higher education facilities.
“The project team is hopeful that more states will take advantage of opportunism here and implement standards that contribute to on-going water conservation and efficiency,” the report states.
In conclusion, the report offers this advice to states:
“No matter the grade, the strong examples contained in the exemplary laws sections can be foundational for planners, policy makers, and water professionals who want to improve their state’s approach to managing fresh water resources,” the report states. “It is hoped that this report will be used to guide all states forward on these critical issues.”
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