ONTARIO, CALIF. — One of the first items on the agenda of the International Association of Plumbing & Mechanical Officials Green Technical Committee demonstrates the passion and commitment of the assembled engineers, contractors, code inspectors, manufacturers and association representatives. The GTC has already published two editions of the Green Plumbing & Mechanical Code Supplement, an overlay to the Uniform Plumbing Code and Uniform Mechanical Code. All of the easy stuff — high efficiency toilets or low-flow faucets and fittings — has been dealt with. Now they were talking about reject water from reverse osmosis systems.

RO units dump a lot of water that doesn’t pass through the membrane and the question was what to do with it. At issue was an addition to the Green Plumbing & Mechanical Code Supplement that would say that reject water could “be reused as appropriate for its quality.” Two of the industry’s foremost engineers, Bill Hoffman (http://bit.ly/1qQF21c) and Bob Boulware (http://bit.ly/1oXHBTs) were on opposite sides of the discussion. Check the links for Hoffman’s and Boulware’s achievements and awards, which are too numerous to list here.

Boulware was absolutely against it. RO reject water is non-potable, he said, and it’s not appropriate for human contact. “You can’t say that there will never be a circumstance that you can’t reuse it,” said Tom Pape, representing the Alliance for Water Efficiency. Who gets to determine what’s “appropriate for it’s quality,” interjected Dave Mann from the California Pipe Trades Council. But water going into an RO unit is potable water, argued Hoffman; now it just has a higher concentration of salts. Hoffman acknowledged that RO reject water isn’t drinking water but it can be used for something.

Not potable but …

We’re debating point of use RO systems, Hoffman pointed out, which means kitchen sinks, which means potable. Why not send the reject water to the water heater? Countered Chuck White, technical director for Plumbing-Heating-Cooling Contractors – National Association, the definition doesn’t specifically say “point of use.” We may have potable water in our kitchens, Boulware said, but if this is used as an international standard, the water in other countries may not be as pure. Rod Jara from the United Association Great Lakes Training Center said he knows there are packaged systems on the market that direct the reject water under pressure to the water heater. Hold on a minute, said Mann, did anybody bother to read the NSF standard that says RO reject water has to go through an air gap and down a sanitary drain?

The committee decides to send the matter back to the task group and it will probably be moved into another chapter, the chapter dealing with alternative water sources such as rainwater and graywater.

Clearly the low-hanging fruit has been plucked.

Engineer John Koeller (who with Canadian engineer Bill Gauley created the Maximum Performance test for toilets) introduced new language on shower diverters designed to bring the Green Supplement into alignment with California codes that require leakage of 0.01-GPM before the life cycle test and 0.05-GPM after the test. Shower diverters, along with shower valves, tend to stay in the wall for years and they leak a lot. The average, according to a study by Taitem Engineering (http://bit.ly/1eyaUaQ) is 0.8-GPM. The California Energy Commission (CEC) tested more than 1,000 diverters and only found 20 that didn’t meet their standard. More than 400 of them reported zero leakage. If the diverter doesn’t leak, 30% goes out through the showerhead and 70% of the leaked water is not used at all — it’s true water conservation. 

The manufacturers were not happy. Fernando Fernandez from Toto said that this would make manufacturers test to a third standard, in addition to the ASME and CEC tests. Shabbir Rawalpindiwala from Kohler said he remembers when the CEC passed its standard 11 years ago and they were told that reduced leakage from the diverter would save only $1 a year but the CEC passed it despite opposition from the manufacturers. Mann opined that this doesn't belong in a code because no inspector will measure it. In response Koeller pointed out that this isn’t a third test because it just matches up with CEC requirements and that there are many things in the code, such as flow through showerheads, that inspectors don’t measure.

Zero beneficial use

Ed Osann from the Natural Resources Defense Council noted that the CEC had found some diverters are operating with virtually no leakage, and leakage has zero beneficial use.

“This adds to the flow rate anywhere from 10% to 50%,” Osann said. “It’s a tax on shower water consumption. We often raise these issues and people say this should be up to the standards bodies, but this is a form of energy and water waste that cries out for a solution.”

We have pushed beyond the standards before, Hoffman said. Craig Selover, Selover Consulting and formerly with Delta Faucet, was in favor of pushing.

Let’s put the challenge out there for manufacturers to see how they are going to help us out, Selover said. It may take a while but this is right thing to do. The motion carried.