Sensible Action on WaterSense

The EPA’s WaterSense program, which Congress could authorize, can save water and energy, writes Tom Kenworthy.

The EPA's WaterSense program to approve water-efficient plumbing devices covers certain aerators that can be installed on faucets to reduce flow. (Flickr/<a href= Shlabotnik)" data-srcset=" 610w, 610w, 610w, 500w, 250w" data-sizes="auto" />
The EPA's WaterSense program to approve water-efficient plumbing devices covers certain aerators that can be installed on faucets to reduce flow. (Flickr/Joe Shlabotnik)

When it comes to investing in water conservation, the cost is often low and the payback period quick. That’s why legislation introduced yesterday by Reps. George Miller (D-CA) and Rush Holt (D-NJ) to authorize funding for the Environmental Protection Agency’s WaterSense program is a smart move for both economic prosperity and our energy and water futures.

The three-year-old WaterSense program evaluates plumbing fixtures and recommends those that are at least 20 percent more efficient than the existing national efficiency standard. It’s modeled on Energy Star, the longstanding and very successful program by the Environmental Protection Agency, or EPA, and the Department of Energy that helps consumers buy energy-efficient products, from televisions to washing machines to office equipment. The EPA estimates that the three-year-old WaterSense program has helped save 277 million gallons of water per year, reducing consumers’ utility bills by $1.6 million.

WaterSense-approved fixtures are affordable for consumers and improve both water and energy conservation. Efficient and reliable bathroom faucet aerators can be purchased for a little more than $1, while low-flow showerheads can cost as little as $25. According to the Rocky Mountain Institute, an efficient showerhead will return 10-40 times its cost over 10 years.

Water managers in 36 states now predict shortages by 2013, according to the Government Accountability Office, meaning saving water must be a priority for Americans. What many don’t realize is that saving water also means saving energy: The United States uses lots of electricity—as much as 14 percent of total consumption, according to some estimates—to deliver, treat, and heat water.

“One of the best ways to conserve energy across the country…is to use water more efficiently,” according to recent congressional testimony from Michael Shapiro, the Environmental Protection Agency’s acting administrator for water. If one in 10 American homes had bathroom faucets or aerators with the agency’s WaterSense label, Shapiro said, “they could save 6 billion gallons of water and more than $50 million in the energy costs to supply, heat and treat that water.”

More efficient use of water, and the energy savings that could mean, is starting to gain traction on Capitol Hill thanks to the leadership of several House members.

In testimony a few weeks ago, Mary Ann Dickinson, head of the Alliance for Water Efficiency, recommended that lawmakers more than quadruple the program’s annual funding to $10 million and officially authorize it.

Today’s bill from Miller and Holt would authorize WaterSense, which would raise the program’s profile and provide more market certainty to companies that produce and sell WaterSense products.

The Miller-Holt legislation, HR 2368 would also:

  • Establish a rebate program, based in individual states, to assist consumers in purchasing water efficient fixtures. For states with existing programs, the legislation would help expand them. Initial federal funding would total $50 million and rise to $150 million a year by 2014.
  • Guarantee that the federal government leads by example by directing agencies to purchase water efficient products and take into account water consumption in their procurement practices.

In another positive development, Rep. Mike Coffman (R-CO) introduced legislation on April 13 that takes an alternative approach. His bill, H.R. 1908, would allow consumers to take up to $1,500 in tax credits for the purchase of WaterSense-endorsed products including showerheads, faucets, toilets, urinals, and certain irrigation items.

Both approaches leverage Washington’s ability to persuade Americans to join the fight to better manage and conserve water and energy. We applaud the legislators’ efforts and their leadership in tackling one of the many intricately related challenges that are key to environmental and economic prosperity in the 21st century.

Tom Kenworthy is a Senior Fellow at the Center for American Progress.

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Tom Kenworthy

Senior Fellow