Overturning the 1.6 gpf rule would be a reckless step backward. using low-flow toilets falls into that category of all of us doing our part to conserve our natural resources.

A decade ago, the plumbing industry was up in arms over proposed federal legislation that would mandate a toilet's flush at 1.6 gal. In an editorial in 1989, Charlie Horton, the founder of this magazine, called the bill "madness" and worried that this "reckless leap into the unknown could inflict serious technical problems and consumer ire on the industry."

Ten years later, we've experienced our share of technical problems and consumer ire, but to throw out the 1.6 gpf mandate now would be madness indeed. A better idea would be to keep water conservation as the worthy objective it is and have manufacturers strive to overcome any technical problems with low-flow toilets.

Performance has been a central issue in the debate but so has the question of whether low-flow toilets really save that much water. Double-flushing aside, critics of 1.6 gpf models argue that far more water is used by farmers, factories and utilities and lost through leaky pipes than could ever be saved by toilets.

Still, it all adds up. The amount of water that is conserved by low-flow fixtures is impressive. In Texas, low-flow plumbing products will save 750 million gal. a day by the year 2050. In New York, where consumers got rebates for installing 1.6 gpf toilets, up to 80 million gal. a day are being saved. Apartment buildings with 1.6 models have cut their water consumption by 30%.

Water is a precious and an expensive resource. Using low-flow toilets falls into that category of all of us - particularly the plumbing industry - doing our part to conserve our natural resources.

Performance counts. The noble goal of saving water doesn't mean that consumers and contractors have to put up with low-performance toilets. Manu- facturers have made substantial improvements in low-flow models since they became widespread in the aftermath of the 1992 law.

The marketplace - namely, consumer complaints - has driven many of the changes in technology. Manufacturers must continue to refine the technology of their products if this water conservation effort is to be entirely successful.

I've seen enough toilets tested in labs and at trade shows to know that low-flow models can work. I've even seen them work in the real world. Certainly not all low-flow models have been created equal, which is why manufacturers have to raise the bar on performance as they lower water consumption.

Toilets and other plumbing products by themselves will not add up to a national policy on water conservation. But they will continue to be an essential component of any such policy. Overturning the 1.6 gpf rule would be a reckless leap backward.