Two Milestones on the Road to Smarter Water Use

Water Efficiency Gets Major Boost in New York

In a move that will help protect the natural waterways of New York while saving New Yorkers money on their water and sewer bills, a key state agency adopted new rules today requiring water-efficient plumbing products in all new construction and major renovation.

The New York State Fire Prevention and Building Code Council gave final approval to changes in the New York Uniform Fire Prevention and Building Code that will require more water efficient toilets, urinals, showerheads, and residential lavatory faucets in all new construction, as recommended by my NRDC colleague Larry Levine over the last 3 1/2 years. New York City had successfully implemented the same requirements in 2012, and today’s action by the State Code Council brings the benefits of water efficiency to communities and consumers throughout the Empire State. Recent drought conditions in the Northeast had heightened interest in the proposal, along with water constraints being experienced in some high-growth regions in New York.  The new rules are expected to take effect by November of this year.

One-third of the U.S. population now resides in jurisdictions where the water consumption of toilets and urinals in new construction is required to be at least as efficient as the specifications set by the U.S. EPA’s WaterSense Program, a voluntary labeling program identifying efficient products similar to the Energy Star program. Both programs have been proposed for elimination by the Trump Administration but enjoy widespread support from manufacturers, retailers, consumer groups, local officials and environmental advocates alike.

ICC Board Rescinds Energy-Saving Measure Approved by Voting Membership

The International Code Council, a leading publisher of model building, plumbing, and energy codes for state and local adoption, announced an unusual step taken by its Board of Directors to reverse an energy- and water-saving measure approved by its voting membership just last year. Drawn into a turf war between traditional plumbing industry interests and a strong nationwide network of energy efficiency advocates, the Board sided with its plumbing constituency and voted to rescind a revision to the 2018 International Energy Conservation Code that set a maximum flow rate for showerheads in new commercial buildings at 2 gallons per minute. Notwithstanding the substantial energy saving benefits of this proposal, which had been submitted to the ICC by the city of Scottsdale, Arizona, the ICC Board ruled that flow rates from plumbing products could only be set in another of its code books, the International Plumbing Code. Technical committees overseeing the updating of the Plumbing Code have turned down stronger efficiency requirements for showerheads, faucets, toilets, and urinals during the last two code revision cycles.

As noted above, the adoption of stronger water efficiency requirements by states and localities is progressing, as officials on the ground see the need and recognize the value of more efficient water-using products. Indeed, New York State code officials moved to revise their state code after their proposal to strengthen the national model plumbing code was rebuffed by the ICC.  Before long, the national “model” codes will be overtaken by states that see the benefits of water efficiency for their citizens that the industry-dominated code publishers cannot bring themselves to recognize.