As the water receded from Lake Mead this past year, all the major news headlines focused on the human remains it revealed. Very rarely did any mention the ecosystem in crisis as trees, fish and other aquatic creatures, birds and other species are dying out as they are left out to dry.
The Colorado River supplies water to roughly 40 million people in seven states, 29 Native American tribes and parts of Mexico, and farmers use it to irrigate nearly 5.5 million acres of agricultural land, according to the Smithsonian magazine. It’s a problem of our own creation, as the Colorado River Compact was signed 100 years ago last November.
Decades of overuse combined with climate change — hotter temperatures are causing more evaporation and reducing the mountain snowpack that feeds the river — have reduced the river’s flow and water levels in both Lake Mead and Lake Powell. But the drought problem is much more widespread than just this region.
Late last year, the U.S. Drought Monitor revealed that nearly 82% of the country is facing at least abnormally dry conditions – the highest percentage since the drought monitor launched in 2000. While the West has been battling drought for hundreds of years, unusual dryness is continuing in parts of the Northeast and expanding extreme drought conditions into the Midwest.
With a growing water scarcity problem at home and across the world, Plumbing Manufacturers International announced its Rethink Water Initiative during its PMI22 Manufacturing Success conference last October. The goal is to ensure future generations have reliable access to safe and clean water.
“There is an ancient Iroquois philosophy – the Seventh Generation Principle – that says decisions we make today should result in a sustainable world seven generations into the future,” Martin Knieps, senior director of operational excellence for Viega, and immediate past president of the PMI Board of Directors, wrote in PMI’s Ripple Effect newsletter. “Think about that for a minute. Consider how your actions today would impact the world seven generations hence. How would that change what you do? When it comes to water, every kettle we boil, bottle of water we drink, or bath or shower we take is a choice we make to use the planet’s scarce resources. With regard to the Seventh Generation Principle, none of us wants to contribute to a water apocalypse for our children or grandchildren. The Great Law of the Iroquois makes clear, ‘In every deliberation, we must consider the impact on the seventh generation.’”
Since millions of gallons of water are wasted each day through the use of older, legacy plumbing products — with toilets and showers being the largest consumers of indoor water usage — PMI will be advocating for the implementation of a large-scale legacy plumbing product replacement program as part of its Rethink Water Initiative.
Last month, PMI hosted a webinar discussing the water-saving opportunity, specifically in California, based on the results of a study conducted by GMP Research. Back in 2015-2016, California implemented Title 20 regulations in terms of the maximum flow rates for plumbing products and fixtures. The study examined the market penetration of those mandated water-efficient fixtures.
According to Jerry Desmond, a consultant for PMI, the study found the residential market penetration of water-efficient 1.28 gallons per flush (gpf)-or-less toilets to range from 22% to 25.9% in the five state regions surveyed. However, if you look to disadvantaged communities, the penetration was even lower, ranging from 19.6% to 22.2% in the five regions.
The key takeaway of the presentation was, overall, up to 326 billion gallons of water can be saved over 30 years by replacing 26.1 million 1.6 or higher gpf toilets with 1.28-gpf toilets in California. To put that into perspective, one billion gallons of water is equal to 1,534 Olympic swimming pools.
Now, just think how much water could be saved if PMI is successful in lobbying state and federal government officials to create rebate programs and tax incentives to replace older plumbing fixtures and products in their homes.
Plumbers can help by doing their part. Plumbing contractors are already in their customers’ homes and are the trusted expert when it comes to anything water. Contractors should work with their technicians on how to educate their customers on the benefits of WaterSense-certified products, smart shutoff valves and leak detection devices.
Tell your plumbers to know their audience. If the homeowner is a millennial or Gen Zer, explain the environmental benefits of these types of products. A Pew Research Center survey found that compared to older adults, millennials and Gen Zers are talking more about the need for action on climate change and doing more to get involved with the issue through activities such as volunteering and attending rallies and protests.
For Gen Xers and Baby Boomers, focus on the water savings by explaining the how these products will lower their water utility bill. Tell them how leak detection devices and shutoff valves offer peace of mind knowing their home won’t experience water damage should a pipe burst.
In the end, the customer is happy knowing they’re doing their part to save the world and their bills will be lower, while the contractor gets a new sale and a customer for life.