The Niagara Falls of water savings—efficiency standards

Posted on April 17, 2017 by
Marianne DiMascio

Imagine standing on a sightseeing boat at the foot of Niagara Falls as millions of gallons of water gush over the American Falls, mesmerized by the massive flow and the power of the churning waters. Imagine staying there for 7 months, 2 weeks, and 1 day as the water pours over the falls day after day after day. Now imagine finding out that all that water is equivalent to the amount of water saved by efficiency standards for basic water-using products over the course of 1 year. Surprised? You bet!

In a February 2016 white paper, Energy-Saving States of America: How Every State Benefits from National Appliance Standards,” my colleagues at the Appliance Standards Awareness Project (ASAP) and the American Council for an Energy-Efficient Economy (ACEEE) estimated that existing efficiency standards for water-using products like clothes washers, dishwashers, showerheads, and toilets saved 1.5 trillion gallons of water in the United States in 2015 alone. Moreover, the level of savings continues to grow every year as older water-using products are replaced with more efficient models. Nationwide, water savings will grow to 1.7 trillion gallons annually in 2030.

Our research also reported per-household and total savings for each of the 50 states. The average US household saved about 12,000 gallons in 2015, an amount equivalent to 14% of average household water use. Household savings ranged from 10,500 gallons per year in Maine to 14,500 gallons in Utah, with the highest average savings in states with the largest household sizes. The top 10 states for per-household water savings were Utah, Hawaii, California, Texas, Alaska, Georgia, Nevada, Arizona, New Jersey, and Idaho.

Not surprisingly, total water savings are largest in the most populous states. California and Texas topped the list with 183 and 129 billion gallons of water savings in 2015, respectively. But when you look at savings as a percentage of water usage, the savings matter enormously everywhere. Total water savings from existing standards as a percentage of public water supply ranged from 5 to 17% in the various states.

Efficiency standards for water-using products are particularly important for areas with water supply or wastewater infrastructure issues or states at risk of drought. California, Texas, Colorado, and Georgia have all adopted state standards for plumbing products that are even stronger than the federal minimum standards, which means water savings are even greater in those states. Usually, national standards preempt state standards, meaning that states cannot typically adopt stronger standards. But, in the case of faucets, showerheads, toilets, and urinals, the Department of Energy (DOE) waived state preemption in 2010, since the federal standards had never been updated. Other states may also consider boosting their savings by copying the stronger standards in place in these states.

Less water waste is good news for consumers, businesses, and municipalities, as it translates to lower water and wastewater bills. Products that save hot water (e.g., clothes washers, faucets, and showerheads) also can deliver significant energy bill savings. Water conservation also can help defer or downsize needed public investments in water supply or wastewater infrastructure projects.

Going back to the original energy efficiency standards signed into law by President Ronald Reagan in 1987 and the first plumbing product efficiency standards enacted by President George H.W. Bush in 1992, Congress and DOE have established energy and water efficiency standards for more than 50 products. Overall, accounting for products sold between 1987 and 2035 and for estimated product price increases, the total net present value of national standards is $2.4 trillion for US consumers and businesses. All combined, existing standards saved the average US household approximately $500 on utility bills in 2015—maybe enough to help pay for a trip to go see the awe-inspiring Niagara Falls for yourself.

For more information on water and energy savings in your state, click here for links to the white paper, infographic, interactive map, and press release.