Government's effort to conserve water actually results in more use of it

By DAVID MOON, Moon Capital Management
December 16, 2001

All I want for Christmas is a new toilet. Actually, I want an old toilet. And I want the government out of my bathroom. That's it. A toilet and some bureaucracy-free alone time to read the newspaper.

There is the evidence of my problem, right next to the existing toilet in my master bathroom: a plunger. When we moved into a new house four years ago, we left behind several perfect toilets, one in each bathroom. We exchanged them for brand new toilets in our brand new house. Unbeknownst to us, however, was that the old toilets consumed an apparently wasteful 3.5 gallons per flush, compared to only 1.6 gallons for the new toilets.

In 1992, the US Congress decided water conservation was a big enough problem to pass the Energy Policy and Conservation Act, much to the delight of the country's plumbers and plunger salesmen. The Act limits the consumption of water by toilets in new or renovated house to only 1.6 gallons per flush, supposedly saving up to 30 gallons of water per day, according to Environmental News magazine. (If the magazine is correct, that suggests 15.78 flushes per day per household, a level we haven't reached even with two kids and a houseful of non-working toilets.) The old toilets, which almost always did their job just fine with a single flush, used 3.5 gallons per flush. This apparently stressed our nation's resources to the point federal legislation was needed.

Plumbing fixture manufacturers love the legislation; their products now need only meet a single federal standard, rather than a multiple mess of state and local requirements. Perhaps some paper company will lobby the government to require the use of 60 sheets of toilet paper per incident, in the name of public health.

Never mind that interim flushing actually uses more water. Don't even consider the value of time lost to water closet inefficiencies. I will even ignore the miniscule percentage of our nation's total water usage attributable to the commode. Even ignoring these things, the government has no legitimate purpose in my bathroom. Where are the Roe v. Wade folks? What about the strict constitutionalists? Shouldn't Andy Rooney, or Geraldo Rivera or Barbara Walters do something about this?

Michigan Congressman Joe Knollenberg tried. In 1999, he introduced, and then withdrew, legislation that would have repealed portions of the 1992 Act, allowing Americans once again to flush with dignity.

Stephen Gordon, director of Detroit's Water and Sewage Department objected to Knollenberg's bill, citing California as an example of sewage success. He claimed that 93 percent of San Diego residents were satisfied or very satisfied with the new (non-working) toilets. I say let those 93 percent flush to their hearts' content. I prefer a single, successful flush.

I guess lawmakers have to make laws. Prosperity and peace apparently give elected officials the luxury to think about the really big questions in life ' like my toilet. I hope that one of the minor consequences of a nation at war and in recession is that legislators will properly focus their energies on real issues.

Not so in sunny California. In 1992, Los Gatos adopted an ordinance prohibiting the installation of wood burning fireplaces in new homes. The Santa Rosa city council is considering going a step further and requiring that all wood burning fireplaces be replaced with gas burners before an existing home could be sold.

Those guys obviously have too much time on their hands.

David Moon is president of Moon Capital Management, a Knoxville-based investment management firm. This article originally appeared in the News Sentinel (Knoxville, TN).

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