Changing Planet

Why Kill a Program that Saves Water, Energy, and Money – and that Business Likes?

Every gallon saved means more water available to sustain fish, wildlife, and recreational opportunities in our rivers and lakes. Photo by Steve Trimble

This week the Alliance for Water Efficiency (AWE), a non-profit organization based in Chicago, Illinois, sent a letter to US EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt that makes an unassailable case for continuing a program called WaterSense.

As most of us know, Mr. Pruitt is on a quest to reduce the regulation of air, land, and water, and to shrink the agency he now runs, presumably to help business.

But putting WaterSense on the chopping block makes no sense – or cents.

WaterSense helps US consumers make wise choices by labeling appliances and fixtures that save water and meet certain standards of efficiency. It is a voluntary, public-private partnership, not a regulatory program. It was launched in 2006 during the George W. Bush administration.

Over the last decade WaterSense has saved US consumers some $33 billion on their water and energy bills, according to AWE, which is spearheading a campaign to keep the program alive.   The purchase of WaterSense-labeled toilets, faucets, showerheads and other products has so far saved an estimated 1.5 trillion gallons of water – four times the annual water use of New York City.

Working in tandem with the national water-efficiency standards for plumbing fixtures passed in 1992, and signed into law by President George H. W. Bush, this labeling program has helped build water conservation into our homes and offices.

And because saving water also saves energy, the program has also cut electricity use by 212 billion kilowatt hours – enough to power 19.4 million homes for a year.

WaterSense inspires product innovation and is strongly supported by the plumbing and irrigation industries. Some 187 companies and organizations signed AWE’s letter to Administrator Pruitt, including the American Water Works Association, Ewing Irrigation & Landscape Supply, Hunter Industries, Kohler, Rain Bird, and Plumbing Manufacturers International, as well as many cities, utilities and conservation organizations.

WaterSense, a public-private labeling program run by the USEPA, has saved an estimated 1.5 trillion gallons of water over the last decade. Image courtesy of USEPA.
WaterSense, a public-private labeling program run by the USEPA, has saved an estimated 1.5 trillion gallons of water over the last decade. Image courtesy of USEPA.

With every gallon not needed to flush a toilet, wash dishes, take a shower, or irrigate our landscapes, there’s more water available to sustain fish, wildlife and recreational opportunities in our rivers, lakes and streams. Using water more efficiently boosts the value of water – and makes more water available for activities we enjoy and that boost our economies.

And here’s the kicker: the program costs a meager $2 million a year to run. So, over the last decade, a program costing taxpayers about $20 million has saved them $33 billion. That’s $1,650 in savings for every dollar spent.

If you agree that’s a good return on investment, consider letting Mr. Pruitt and your Congressional representative know that you’d like to keep WaterSense – and sensible water use – alive and well.


Sandra Postel is director of the Global Water Policy Project, co-creator of Change the Course, and author of the forthcoming book Replenish: The Virtuous Cycle of Water and Prosperity  (Island Press).

Sandra Postel is director of the Global Water Policy Project and author of Replenish: The Virtuous Cycle of Water and Prosperity. From 2009-2015, she served as Freshwater Fellow of the National Geographic Society. Sandra is also co-creator of Change the Course, the national water stewardship initiative awarded the 2017 US Water Prize for restoring billions of gallons of water to depleted rivers and wetlands. The recipient of several honorary degrees, she works to bridge science, policy, and practice to promote innovative ways of securing water to meet both human and ecosystem needs.
  • Peter Mayer

    You have a typo. WaterSense was created in 2006 (not 1996) and it was indeed under the G.W. Bush Admin.

  • Rob Zimmerman

    Thanks, Sandra, for adding your highly respected voice to this issue. WaterSense is a great example of how the public, private, and non-profit sectors can work together and help deliver measurable impact for Americans. It needs to be grown, not discontinued.

  • Amy Vickers

    Sandra, you nailed it! You make an excellent business case for not only saving but also expanding WaterSense: How many other government programs return money on taxpayer investments?

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