Water Infrastructure:

Impact of National Water Efficiency Standards

RCED-00-161R: Published: May 1, 2000. Publicly Released: May 1, 2000.

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Peter F. Guerrero
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Pursuant to a congressional request, GAO provided information on national water efficiency standards, focusing on the impact of: (1) the national water efficiency standards on water consumption levels and wastewater flows; and (2) repealing the national standards on projected infrastructure investments for drinking water and wastewater treatment facilities.

GAO noted that: (1) a variety of studies and other data indicate that the use of water-efficient plumbing fixtures has reduced the consumption of public water supplies and the level of wastewater flows into treatment plants and is projected to have a significant impact over the long term; (2) for example, preliminary results from an ongoing national survey being conducted by the American Water Works Association show that for four locations (Austin, Texas; Los Angeles, California; Phoenix, Arizona; and Tampa, Florida), the water efficiency standards will reduce consumption by about 5 to 8 percent by the year 2020; (3) an ongoing study being sponsored by the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) indicates that wastewater flows will be reduced by approximately 8 billion gallons per day nationwide--about 25 percent of the total daily flow--by the year 2020 as a result of using efficient plumbing fixtures; (4) some communities are already achieving significant reductions in water consumption through accelerated toilet replacement programs; (5) surveys of participants in such programs indicate that satisfaction with low-flow toilet varies depending on the model and that higher-rated models are reported as having fewer problems like the need for double flushing; (6) however, more data would be helpful in understanding the results of such surveys; (7) repealing the national water efficiency standards will affect the extent to which investments in expanded drinking water and wastewater infrastructure can be deferred or avoided, according to preliminary findings by the Association and EPA; (8) the Association estimates that with the standards in place, the reduced water consumption in the four locations translates into savings of about $180 million by the year 2020 because these communities would be able to defer planned investments in expanded drinking water facilities; (9) when completed, EPA's studies will include a national estimate of the impact of reduced wastewater flows on planned investments in wastewater treatment facilities; (10) developing this estimate may be problematic, however, because EPA's database on projected wastewater treatment needs may not adequately differentiate between investments in expanded capacity and replacement of existing facilities; (11) repealing the national standards may also affect the status of preexisting state and local standards; (12) according to state and local water program officials, in some instances, such standards would automatically be revived upon repeal of the national requirements; and (13) in other cases, action would be required to reinstate preexisting standards.

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