New York to save billions of gallons of water with water-saving standards

Posted on by
Marianne DiMascio

New York made a big splash recently by updating water-saving standards for four common plumbing productsfaucets, showerheads, toilets, and urinals. On December 6, 2019, Governor Cuomo signed a bill that will reduce water and energy waste, decrease CO2 emissions, and save consumers money on utility bills.

New York can expect to cut water use by 3.7 billion gallons in 2025 alone. As the less efficient products are replaced, the number will grow to 11.3 billion gallons of water in 2035, equivalent to the annual water consumption of 160,000 New York households.

The standards for two of the productsfaucets and showerheadsalso save energy, since less water used means less water to heat. The standards will cut CO2 emissions by 87,200 metric tons in 2025, equivalent to the annual emissions of 18,500 vehicles and reduce energy use by 51 gigawatt hours in 2025, equivalent to the electricity use of 8000 homes. Given New York's very ambitious goals for reducing CO2 emissions enacted earlier this year, every step that saves energy and reduces emissions helps. And consumers will benefit too, saving $72 million on utility bills in 2025 and $240 million in 2035.

The law (adopted as A2286/S354) updates water efficiency standards for plumbing products to WaterSense levels. WaterSense is a US Environmental Protection Agency voluntary labeling program that allows consumers to identify water-efficient products. It is similar to the ENERGY STAR label which identifies energy-efficient products. Products meeting the WaterSense levels are already being sold today but once the standards go into effect, only products meeting the WaterSense levels will be sold in New York. Under the new state law, the New York Department of Environmental Conservation must complete a regulatory rulemaking in advance of the January 1, 2022 compliance date.

New York was able to set standards for the four plumbing products in question due to an exemption granted by the federal government more than a decade ago. The US Department of Energy, which has never updated the federal plumbing products standards enacted by Congress in 1992, waived federal preemption in 2010, allowing states to set standards that are stronger than the federal levels. For example, the federal standard for toilets is set at a maximum of 1.6 gallons per flush (gpf) while the new New York state standard is 1.28 gpf.

New York is the eighth state to adopt updated plumbing standards, joining California, Colorado, Georgia, Hawaii, Texas, Vermont, and Washington. Each of these states have adopted one or more plumbing products standards higher than the federal standards. New York City paved the way for the statewide standards, implementing similar standards in 2012.

New York can make an even bigger splash by adopting standards for additional water- and energy-saving products. Colorado, Vermont, and Washington each recently adopted standards for about 15 products including computers and monitors, commercial restaurant equipment, portable spas, and spray sprinklers. The entire package of standards could reduce annual global warming emissions by 1.3 million metric tons of CO2 statewide by 2035 while cutting consumer utility bills by $1.1 billion. By adopting additional energy- and water-saving standards, New York can provide critical regional leadership, paving the way for adjoining states to act while beginning to make progress on the ambitious New York Climate Leadership and Community Protection Act goals.