WASHINGTON — The Environmental Protection Agency’s WaterSense program, long the redheaded stepchild to the much, much larger and well-funded Energy Star program, might actually be authorized and funded. WaterSense has been operated almost as a side venture in the EPA’s Office of Wastewater Management and has been funded with Energy Star “leftovers” of about $2 million per year.

Industry groups, such as the Plumbing Manufacturers International, have lobbied Congress in the past to authorize and fund WaterSense to give the program more heft and authority. All manufacturers produce a variety of WaterSense labeled fittings and fixtures.

That might happen now, although we are, however, talking about Congress. On Jan. 3, 2013, Rep. Rush D. Holt Jr. (D-NJ), along with Rep. George Miller III (D-CA), introduced H.R. 123 “The Water Advanced Technologies for Efficient Resource Use Act of 2013.” The aim of the legislation is to encourage water efficiency by authorizing the WaterSense program within the EPA and authorizing WaterSense product incentives. The bill is a reintroduction of H.R. 1967, which did not pass in the last two Congresses.

The legislation would fund WaterSense with an authorization of $7.5 million for fiscal 2014, $10 million for fiscal 2015, $20 million for 2016, $50 million for 2017 and for each year thereafter with annual adjustments for inflation.

The bill would give EPA a dozen WaterSense duties. Those tasks would be:

1. Promote WaterSense labeled products, buildings and landscapes, and services in the marketplace as the preferred technologies and services.

2. Work to enhance public awareness of the WaterSense label through public outreach, education, water recycling and reuse technology research and development.

3. Establish and maintain performance standards, so that products, buildings and landscapes, and services labeled with the WaterSense label perform as well or better than their less efficient counterparts.

4. Publicize the importance of proper installation of WaterSense plumbing products by a WaterSense-certified or, if WaterSense certification guidelines do not exist, licensed plumbing or mechanical contractor.

5. Preserve the integrity of the WaterSense label.

6. Regularly review and update WaterSense criteria at least once every four years.

7. Annually collect and publish summary data on the production and relative market shares of WaterSense labeled products, buildings and services.

8. Annually estimate and publicize the water and energy savings attributable to the use of WaterSense labeled products, buildings and services.

9. Solicit comments from interested parties and the public prior to establishing or revising a WaterSense category, specification, or other criteria.

10. Provide reasonable notice to interested parties and the public of any changes.

11. Provide appropriate lead-time prior to the effective date for a new or significant revision to a category, specification, installation criterion, or other criteria.

12. Improve water efficiency by identifying and implementing other voluntary approaches, such as labeling waterless devices that perform the same function as a water-consuming product or encouraging reuse, reclamation, and recycling technologies.

Item No. 4 on certified WaterSense installers would be of particular interest to plumbing contractors. Plumbing-Heating-Cooling Contractors – National Association has been lobbying EPA since 2008 to certify installers after the agency came out with its whole-house WaterSense for Homes specification.

In a 2008 letter to the EPA, PHCC pointed out that many new homes do not have specifications for pipe-equipment sizing, venting and load calculations that are necessary to ensure that the total installation is not only water efficient, but also that it works to the satisfaction of the homeowner.

“Anyone who is not properly trained in plumbing will make decisions that could compromise the entire plumbing system, resulting in a poorly constructed system that does not meet the water efficiency that WaterSense is seeking,” PHCC said. (CONTRACTOR, Sept. 2008, http://contractormag.com/plumbing/phcc_seeks_qualifications).

EPA created the WaterSense program in 2006, and WaterSense Products Lead Stephanie Tanner has operated the program for years on a shoestring budget. Despite being underfunded and understaffed, it has been enormously influential with its provisions (or those closely similar) being written into both the International Code Council’s International Green Construction Code and the International Plumbing & Mechanical Officials Green Plumbing & Mechanical Code Supplement.

Thanks to the efforts of Chicago plumbing contractor William N. Erickson, past chairman of the IAPMO Green Technical Committee, many of those provisions on products such as low-flow faucets and shower fittings and high-efficiency toilets, are finding their way into the Uniform Plumbing Code.

Since the program's inception in 2006, according to the EPA, WaterSense has helped consumers save a cumulative 287 billion gallons of water and more than $4.7 billion in water and energy bills.