The drought conditions of the 1980s have made it impossible to overlook the importance of water to America's economy and Americans' lifestyles. Warnings of continued water shortages this summer have already been issued from New York to California, from Massachusetts to Georgia.
With watering bans and other use restrictions in effect almost every summer in some states, we have learned how water shortages disrupt our everyday lives.We have felt the restraints on commerce, as industry, shipping and recreational interests have competed for the same water supplies. And we have contemplated massive public spending projects to assure that we can meet our future water needs.
The fact is that most of the water Americans use is simply wasted. Plumbing fixtures and appliances that eliminate this waste are on the market and in use in thousands of American homes, with no documented problems and great consumer satisfaction.
We can take steps to use the water we have more efficiently, and we must reduce waste if we want to avert a larger water crisis.
That is why I have introduced legislation to set water efficiency standards for new water-using products, including toilets, shower heads, urinals, faucets, dishwashers and washing machines.
This bill is modeled on existing law, which requires major appliances to be energy efficient. Far from putting the federal government in Americans' homes, this law has helped us all use energy more wisely with no personal effort or inconvenience.
I think this approach, water conservation through greater efficiency, makes the most sense when we consider the alternative of spending billions on public works for water supply and treatment.
Aqueducts and reservoirs can maximize the amounts available for use in our homes and industries, but they cannot produce more water. Such projects have serious ecological costs.
They impose huge costs on the taxpayers as well, at every level of government. Nationwide, states and municipalities face an estimated $83.5 billion in sewage treatment construction costs as well as billions more for water supply expansions and water treatment upgrades - based on already existing needs.
While this legislation will not erase the need for all of these expenditures, it will clearly save billions of dollars over the next few decades, at an estimated cost to the federal government of $1.5 million per year. There are few areas in which taxpayers can invest so little and receive so much.
This legislation will generate additional savings for consumers as well. Bathroom fixtures that meet the standards I am proposing would cut indoor residential water use by one-quarter to one-third. Savings in my hometown of Atlanta - from more efficient toilets alone - are estimated at $50 to $100 per year for a family of four.
This legislation is not a cure-all. It is but the first step toward wiser use of our limited water resources. I am preparing broader legislation to encourage better pricing of water, more efficient landscaping, detection of leaks, universal metering and public education.
I believe that all related industries will gain from the overall economic benefits of easing the strain on our water resources.
Manufacturers will profit from an increased demand for more efficient fixtures. All interstate commerce will benefit from federal water efficiency standards that prevent a confusing patchwork of regulations, as local governments from Massachusetts to California, recognizing the wisdom of water conservation, set their own efficiency standards.
Far from being big brother it does nothing more than help us catch up, as a nation, with the common sense of the people.