STATELINE, NEV. — A proposed California law that would lower the required amount of water used to flush toilets and urinals got the attention of plumbing contractors meeting May 3 here and plumbing manufacturers gathered in April in Albuquerque, N.M.

The state bill, AB2496, would mandate 1.3 gal. of water be used to flush toilets and 0.5 gal. to flush urinals. Lake Coulson, vice president/government affairs for the Plumbing-Heating-Cooling Contractors — National-Association, discussed the bill with members of the California PHCC meeting just across the state line in Nevada with the Oregon PHCC for the PHCC-West 2006 convention. Among the questions Coulson raised were:

  • Is the change to 1.3-GPF toilets and 0.5-urinals feasible and economically justified?
  • Have the failures of 1.6 GPF models been corrected?
  • Can federal standards for flushing requirements pre-empt any new California law?

AB2496 conflicts with federal mandatesfor 1.6-GPF toilets and 1.0-GPF urinals, Coulson said. He pointed out, however, that the federal government adopted California standards when it passed its current low-flush requirements in 1992.

If California makes AB2496 a state law, the lower flushing amounts would be mandatory for new buildings in 2008 and for all buildings in 2010, Coulson said.

While PHCC has maintained a water conservation position, he said, the national association should work with the California PHCC to defeat, modify or support this legislation.

"What does the industry want?" Coulson asked. "After all, it is our industry that will deal with customer complaints."

What the Plumbing Manufacturers Institute wants is consistent flushing requirements for toilets and urinals. PMI's board of directors discussed AB2496 April 12 in Albuquerque following its spring meeting.

"What we oppose, however, is a piecemeal, state-by-state approach to water conservation," PMI President Claude Theisen of T& S Brass and Bronze Works wrote in the group's May/June newsletter. "AB2496 would establish California as the only state in the nation with such a toilet and urinal standard. Revising state law would create regulatory disarray where national uniformity exists today."

AB2496 and other inconsistent state laws would create confusion in the marketplace and hamper manufacturers' efforts to improve product performance to one national standard, he said.

PMI, which also has supported water conservation, took a position of "neutral with comment" on AB2496. PMI's California lobbyist, Jerry Desmond, presented that position at an April 26 hearing on the bill.

James A. Hanlon, director of the EPA's Office of Water Management, told the PMI members that the EPA is getting closer to launching its voluntary water-efficiency program. Its first announcements will cover irrigation products and possibly high-efficiency toilets, which flush 20% less than 1.6-GPF models, he said.

"Thirty-six states project non-drought-related water shortages in the next 10 years, including New England and the Great Lakes States," he said. "Half the homes in 2030 have not been built yet, according to the Brookings Institute. There's great potential for water savings."

EPA is working with PMI staff and members such as Pete DeMarco of American Standard to develop its program, Hanlon said. The program would promote water-efficient plumbing products such as toilets, faucets and showerheads to consumers by a rating and labeling system similar to the Energy Star program in the HVAC industry.

In addition, EPA is providing some funding for the Alliance for Water Efficiency, which will encourage the production and purchase of water-efficient products through research, voluntary standards and labeling. Mary Ann Dickinson, executive director of the California Urban Water Conservation Council, told PMI members that a final stakeholder meeting on AWE will be held June 16 in Washington, after which it will finalize its organizational structure, mission and funding mechanism.