Calif. orders emergency standards to cut water use by toilets, showers

By Debra Kahn | 04/09/2015 08:10 AM EDT

California regulators passed emergency efficiency standards for toilets, faucets and other water-using appliances yesterday, a move aimed at stemming water waste as the state’s historic drought grows worse.

Starting in January 2016, retailers will not be allowed to sell showerheads, toilets, urinals, bathroom and kitchen faucets and other appliances that violate the new standards. Toilets can use no more than 1.28 gallons per flush, down from 1.6 gallons, and kitchen faucets will not be permitted to use more than 1.8 gallons per minute.

The rule applies to new appliances sold within California, unless they are sold by wholesalers for retail sale outside the state or are designed for exclusive use in vehicles.


The California Energy Commission was due to consider the regulations in May but moved them up to yesterday’s meeting after Gov. Jerry Brown (D) issued an executive order April 1 covering residential use and appliances (E&ENews PM, April 1).

The average California home has two toilets, two bathroom faucets and one kitchen faucet, regulators pointed out. The state uses 433 billion gallons per year flushing toilets and urinals and running faucets. "These new standards will save more than 10 billion gallons of water in the first year, and over time, the water savings will be even greater," said Energy Commissioner Andrew McAllister. Eventually, the standards should save 105 billion gallons per year — three times the annual use of San Francisco.

Limits go far beyond U.S. EPA standards

The rules go significantly further than U.S. EPA’s voluntary "WaterSense" standards for appliances. While the federal standards specify that urinals use no more than 0.5 gallon (4 pints) per flush, California’s rules limit them to 1 pint of water per flush, down from 1 gallon currently. Similarly, the new bathroom faucet standard of 1.2 gallons per minute, down from 2.2 gpm, surpasses EPA’s 1.5 gpm standard.

In addition to moving up the date of adoption, the commission toughened the regulations by making them apply starting in January 2015, rather than July 2015. As well, the regulations mandate that all appliances for sale comply with the new regulations starting Jan. 1; a previous version had required manufacturers to begin making the compliant appliances as of Jan. 1.

Plumbing manufacturer Kohler Co. submitted technical comments and warned that there might not be enough low-flow urinals to meet demand, but was largely supportive of the rules.

The trade group Plumbing Manufacturers International echoed Kohler’s concern about urinal supplies.

Environmentalists praised the rules.

"California is often the trendsetter when it comes to both water and energy efficiency, and hopefully, other states will follow California’s lead," said Tracy Quinn, water policy analyst for the Natural Resources Defense Council.