Water Efficiency

The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) expects 36 states to experience a water shortage by 2013.

What Causes Water Shortages?

  • Increasing U.S. population. According to the EPA, the U.S. population grew by 89% between 1950 and 2000.
  • Increasing usage. While the population grew by 89%, U.S. water usage increased 200% between 1950 and 2000. The average American uses the equivalent of 100 gallons of water a day, double the average in Europe.
  • Aging infrastructure, where millions of gallons are lost daily due to leaks in water supply piping.

What are the Benefits of Water Efficiency?

  • Reduced stress on infrastructure, keeping taxes low.
  • Reduced energy usage, since large amounts of energy are used daily to treat and transport water.
  • Prevention of personal and financial turmoil that would result from a major metropolitan area facing a water crisis. Learn more about the water woes in the Atlanta, GA metropolitan area.
  • Ability to withstand drought conditions better than the town of Orme, TN. On October 24, 2007, the residents of that tiny town just 150 miles northwest of Atlanta turned on their taps and nothing happened, because they ran out of water. Learn what happened when the water ran out in Orme, TN.

Water Conservation or Water Efficiency?

Water conservation is difficult without water efficiency. You might say that conservation without efficiency is mere deprivation, which does not meet the definition of sustainability.

Efficiency means using resources responsibly, planning for usage, and pioneering scientific advances that make it easier for American consumers to select more sustainable products. Otherwise, they won't buy them or buy into conservation.

Bad experiences with so-called conservation products have soured many consumers, making it harder to break through to a skeptical public about the real benefits of using less water. Everyone connected with the plumbing industry - from manufacturer to plumber - was negatively impacted when legislation mandating low-flow toilets (see glossary) in the early 1990s got a few years ahead of the technology. Manufacturers have long-since solved those problems, but the American consumer still remembers.

Lessons Learned: Toilets and Water Efficiency

How did the legislation get ahead of the technology? In the late 1980s, several state governments began restricting residential toilets to 1.6 gallons per flush (gpf), down from 3.5 gpf, in spite of testimony and public outreach by Plumbing Manufacturers International that Americans would experience a flushing performance they might find unacceptable.

The U.S. Energy Policy Act of 1992 made those "low-flow" toilets a requirement for new homes and home remodels nationally by 1994, based in part on the water-savings realized in countries that used such toilets.

But American consumers had different plumbing systems, preferences and expectations for their toilets than consumers in other parts of the world; hence, the industry's expressed concerns. Indeed, there were problems with some toilets sold in the early-to-mid-1990s. Consumers complained about having to flush twice to clean the bowl, bringing water usage back up to 3.2 gpf; clogs created messes, as well as waste; and small water spots that made it harder to keep the toilet bowl clean and sanitary.

The objective of the U.S. Energy Policy Act of 1992 was water conservation, but the objective of plumbing manufacturers was water efficiency. Fortunately, it didn't take long for the technology to catch up, and by May of 1998 a well-known consumer ratings publication found "several affordable low-flow toilets that work very well."

High-performance flushers hit the market earlier in this millennium. Using advanced hydraulic modeling techniques, engineers literally changed the way water moves through the channels of the toilet to eliminate waste. Newer finishes fired into the chinaware give more power to less water, actually improving bowl-cleansing ability over the old 3.5 gpf gushers.

Plumbing manufacturers were soon able to introduce models that used even less water, yet achieved the same satisfactory performance at a fair price for American consumers. High-efficiency toilets lower utility bills, reduce the strain on septic systems, and carry special rebates in many drought-prone areas. The use of these low-flush-volume products can delay or even eliminate the need for developing new or expanded municipal water systems and wastewater-treatment facilities, saving consumers and taxpayers millions of dollars.

Utilities nationwide have invested hundreds of millions of ratepayer dollars in water conservation programs that rely on water-efficient plumbing products. Follow-up surveys demonstrate customer satisfaction to be generally high. These efforts could not continue if modern plumbing products failed to save water or triggered significant customer complaints.

Water Efficiency and Reduced Costs

Conserving water use isn't just politically green; it saves green, taxpayer dollars. With water and sewer infrastructure costs running millions of dollars each year, communities can rely on the steady water savings that are derived from products that use less water.

Even where water is not scarce, efficient plumbing products help consumers and communities reduce the strain on their aging infrastructures. Consumers save on energy, water and wastewater costs; communities save on their infrastructure needs. Conservation goals are met, and environmental quality is further safeguarded - all at no additional cost.

Water-Efficiency, Energy-Efficiency and Food Waste Disposers

Food waste disposers use only about 1% or less of a household's total water consumption and cost on average less than 50 cents a year in electric usage.

The average family of four generates 36 pounds of food waste each week, or nearly 2,000 pounds per year. Each year in the United States, more than 13 million tons of food waste is trucked to landfills. Once there, it quickly decomposes and produces methane, an environmentally harmful greenhouse gas at least 21 times more potent than CO2. While composting provides one approach to tackling America's food waste management challenge, it isn't always practical for today's busy lifestyle.

At capable wastewater treatment plants, food waste can be recycled to produce methane that can be used as a renewable source of power for the plant. Additionally, many wastewater treatment plants can process food waste into biosolids to be used as fertilizer.

Learn more about how a food waste disposer works and how leftovers become energy.