New water restrictions in California are imposing steep cutbacks in cities and towns across the state.
Those cutbacks are also coming to bathrooms and kitchens. New low-flow standards for fixtures like faucets and toilets are forecast to save around 10 billion gallons of water the first year, and up to 105 billion gallons per year over time, according to the California Energy Commission.
Because of its size, California has a history of pulling industry in the direction of conservation. The new standards go into effect for toilets and urinals, but also for kitchen and bath faucets sold after January 1, 2016.
When California rolled out stricter fuel and emissions regulations for cars, the auto industry eventually adopted the guidelines for all cars. Now, many are saying the same could be true for toilets and faucets.
"The adage is, where California goes, so goes the market," says Andy Hoffman, Faculty Director of the University of Michigan’s Erb Institute, which focuses on sustainability and business.
Converting a standard faucet into low-flow isn’t as complex as re-engineering a car, but companies could have an incentive to market the more efficient products.
“It could also get them to bring down the cost because they are going to increase sales,” Hoffman said. “Certainly California will be a motivated market to buy, perhaps, waterless urinals or dual-flush toilets.”
People who don’t like low-flow faucets might be tempted to buy out of state or online, but state incentives could keep that activity to a minimum.
Others say consumers are already accustomed to efficient products, and won’t go out of their way to buy older ones. Tracy Quinn is a water policy analyst with the Natural Resources Defense Council.
"I don't think most consumers out there will notice the difference between a toilet that flushes with 1.6 gallons and one that flushes with 1.28," Quinn said.
Even in states that aren’t wracked by drought, Quinn notes that saving drinking water that now goes down the drain or toilet still makes financial sense, and is something she thinks consumers will want access to.
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