On April 4, Rep. Joe Knollenberg, R-Mich., and 34 co-sponsors reintroduced bill H.R. 1479, proposing the amendment of water conservation laws, to the House of Representatives. The bill seeks to rescind the rules set by EPAct in 1992 regarding water consumption of toilets, shower-heads, faucets and other plumbing supplies.

Knollenberg's new bill is identical to his previous attempts and has been referred to the same committee that defeated it last year by a vote of 13 to 12. This year he has 34 co-sponsors vs. 30 last year.

The centerpiece of Knollenberg's argument last year was that the consumer's choice was restricted to ineffective low-flow toilets. This year, he appears to be focusing on the regulatory issue of state vs. federal rights. He argues that it is a state's right - not the federal government's - to impose restrictions on manufacturers.

He also suggests a black market has developed for the older 3.5-gpf toilets, saying the current restrictions "force consumers to either become lawbreakers or live with showerheads that dribble and toilets that simply don't get the job done."

Lake Coulson, director of governmental relations for the Plumbing-Heating-Cooling Contractors - National Association, said that this year, because Knollenberg chairs a subcommittee within the House Appropriations Committee, the bill could be attached to another bill and passed into law without an opportunity for much debate.

Barbara Higgens, executive director of the Plumbing Manufacturers Institute, said PMI is "very disappointed to see who signed on to this bill." It's confusing that representatives from states with water supply or treatment problems such as Arizona, Texas, Illinois, New Mexico and Florida have representatives endorsing the bill, she said.

"One of the scariest things is that there is a lack of infrastructure to handle any increase in water consumption," said Cece Kremer, vice president of governmental affairs for PMI.

Because toilets may account for nearly 40% of the water consumed in a typical household, the aggregate water savings of low-flow toilets can extend the working life of water treatment facilities, cutting maintenance costs and allowing facilities to serve more people.

One of PMI's primary concerns is uniformity of regulations faced by manufacturers, Higgens said. If the federal laws were removed, the states' laws would remain in effect, creating a patchwork of different rules and regulations. The increased cost to make and ship different toilets to different states probably would be passed on with higher toilet prices.

When the conservation laws limiting toilet water consumption went into effect, manufacturers were forced to act quickly to produce toilets that would meet the new standards. As a result the first few generations of 1.6-gpf toilets did not work nearly as well as their older, 3.5-gpf counterparts. However, in the seven years since the conservation laws took effect, manufacturers have had time to improve the design of the low-flow toilet.

PMI, the PHCC-NA and other groups are trying to prevent this bill from passing by raising public awareness about the issue and encouraging people to write to their representatives in the House. To view a list of co-sponsors of the bill, visit http://thomas.loc.gov, and follow the links for bill H.R. 1479.