In reaction to California’s severe drought, Governor Edmund G. Brown Jr. directed the first-ever statewide mandatory water reduction in Executive Order B-29-15. In order to comply with the order, the California Energy Commission enacted water efficiency standards that go beyond WaterSense.

According to the CEC, the new standards for kitchen and bathroom faucets, urinals and toilets will reduce California water use by more than 100 billion gallons of water per year, once the current stock of products is turned over.

As of Jan. 1, 2016 all toilets, urinals and faucets available for purchase in the state — both for homes and business — will be required to meet the new efficient standards. The emergency regulation also prevents stockpiling of older, less efficient models by retailers.

The details for each appliance are as follows:

  • Toilets and urinals, except those designed for prisons or mental health facilities: Toilets shall not consume more than 1.28 gal. per flush and shall have a waste extraction score of no fewer than 350 grams. Urinals shall not consume more than 0.125 gpf. (These facilities have specially-designed toilets and urinals to address security and health issues.)
  • Residential lavatory faucets shall not exceed 1.2 gpm flow rate.
  • Kitchen faucets shall not exceed 1.8 gpm flow rate and may have capability to increase to 2.2 gpm momentarily for filling pots and pans.
  • Public lavatory faucets shall not exceed 0.5 gpm flow rate.

However, the CEC’s emergency regulation does not require users to replace inefficient plumbing fixtures. However, in order to encourage the replacement of the older products, the CEC is working on a rebate program to make the purchase of more efficient appliances more affordable.

“While Plumbing Manufacturers International appreciates and applauds Governor Brown’s executive order, as the need for water savings in California has never been greater, we are concerned the Order calls for products with maximum flow rates far below approved WaterSense levels and — in the case of 1.2 gpm residential lavatory faucets — products that do not widely exist,” said Barbara C. Higgens, CEO and executive director of PMI. “The compliance deadline of January 2016 is unrealistic in view of the time required for product development, testing and certification, and will be difficult, if not impossible to achieve.”

PHCC — National Association also supports water conservation efforts by all its members, and especially those underway in California during the state’s ongoing drought conditions. However, it does have concerns with the accelerated implementation schedule for some of the products that will be required by the CEC.

“Industry-wide concern has been expressed regarding 1-pint urinals,” said Gerry Kennedy, executive vice president, PHCC — National Association. “While product does exist for these devices, there is overarching concern for drain line sediment build-up resulting in increased maintenance.”

There also is concern that the 1.2-gpm lavatory faucets are a significant departure from the current mainstream product lines. “The relatively short implementation time may make it difficult to have a broad selection of compliant product designed, manufactured and certified to meet this rule,” Kennedy explained. “The supply chain will need to act quickly to convert inventories to new compliant product as there will not be a sell-through period after Jan. 1, 2016.”

PHCC will work with its members and other industry stakeholders to increase awareness and facilitate compliance with this important step in water conservation.


The risks

Consistent with the analysis submitted by acknowledged scientists, PMI has expressed concerns to the CEC that the 1.2 maximum gpm flow rate for residential lavatory faucets may introduce the risk of waterborne pathogens growing in plumbing systems.

“By the Governor’s own admission, California currently has more than 45 million faucets, 30 million toilets, and 1 million urinals,” said Daniel Hilton, director of government affairs at the American Supply Association. “The state consumes more than 443 billion gallons of water a year by flushing toilets and urinals and running faucets. We are concerned that the small businesses that sell and manufacture these essential products may be disproportionally impacted by this, while millions of Californians and visitors to the state will continue to flush their toilets, wash their dishes and take their showers, otherwise known as living their lives. Let there be no mistaking one simple fact: removing waste requires water, ignoring that is unsanitary, inefficient and consequential.”

Dave Viola, the COO and senior vice president of business strategy of IAPMO, said he also sees the health risks and hopes that the proper steps are taken moving forward. He noted the group has been part of California’s history to optimize water use practices since 1940’s when the state jurisdictions started adopted IAPMO’s codes.

“Desperate times call for desperate measures,” he said. “This is not a surprise to IAPMO at all and it’s probably a little late in coming. We’re really hoping that any water conservation mandates California moves forward with are also sustainable and safe — truly optimizing water use and reuse in an integrated strategy.”

Viola believes people do not understand that when water is conserved and nonpotable water reuse is increased, potential risks such as plumbing system degradation, Legionella, scalding and thermal shock have a potential to increase substantially. All plumbing professionals, including engineers will be tested in California because of the need to comply with the requirements of the emergency action, while ensuring efficient plumbing systems are safe and reliable.

“Competency will be critical in design, installation and maintenance of sustainable plumbing systems,” he said. “The price of poker in California just went up. IAPMO will continue partnering with California to establish and implement safe and practical solutions to optimize building system water use, while making associated professional training available to those who need it.”

PMI recommends a 1.5 maximum gpm flow rate for residential lavatory faucets. It advocates for flow rates to be established with an eye toward health, safety and product performance. Higgens said PMI knows the region is in serious drought trouble and it is here to help. There is a “tremendous and immediate opportunity” to retrofit right now she states.

“If you look at the market you have less than five percent transitioned, so you have a lot of legacy products in the field. Replacing or retrofitting, old plumbing fixtures with WaterSense-labeled products will deliver immediate savings now,” Higgens continued. “There is no need to postpone savings. The real win in this is retrofitting. If you’re in the middle of the worst drought in thousands of years retrofitting to WaterSense products is the way to go. Yet they’re obsessed with going to lower and lower [usage] rates.”

Distribution challenges must also be considered. In working with the CEC on this issue for some time, PMI advocates use of current WaterSense labeled water-efficient plumbing products meeting Environmental Protection Agency criteria saving an estimated 360 million gallons of water per day in California.


The savings

Energy Solutions, an international nuclear services company headquartered in Salt Lake City, its clients and the Natural Resources Defense Council, a New York City-based, non-profit international environmental advocacy group, are also proponents of the new regulations. 

Tracy Quinn, NRDC water policy analyst, stated the new regulations carry the weight of law — they’re a done deal. “Things usually take a year from enacting to implementation,” Quinn explained. “However, because of the severe nature of the drought and because some compliant products are in the pipeline, nine months should be enough time for the industry to respond.

“It is because of the urgency of the California drought that the California Energy Commission set the implementation date for Jan. 1. When discussing this issue, Commissioner Andrew McAllister said he understands this is going to be pushing the plumbing industry but the CEC deemed there to be a sufficient number of products on the market already to move forward — based on information in the CEC’s Appliance Database.” The CEC’s California Appliance Efficiency Database for Consumers is online at

“The EPA’s WaterSense program is a really wonderful program and they’ve done some great work with products,” Quinn noted. “I know that, for residential lavatory faucets, the standard was set in 2007. Since then there have been advancements in the marketplace that warrant setting levels that are stricter than WaterSense. The marketplace has moved; there are products available at those levels. The incremental savings at the levels they were set above WaterSense really make sense.”

McAllister adds: “California is serious about water conservation and is committed to consistent and clear water efficiency policies. In the face of California’s current drought, we must use water as efficiently as possible and updating the minimum standards for toilets, urinals and faucets is a step in that direction.”

Read more on Executive Order B-29-15 here.