An oversight occurred to me during my first visit to the WaterSmart Innovations show last month in Las Vegas: No EPA WaterSense Partner of the Year award for Plumbing Professionals.

At a banquet on the first night of the show, the U.S. EPA announced its second annual WaterSense Partner of the Year awards for exemplary water-conservation efforts. The awards correspond to four WaterSense Partner categories: Promotional; Manufacturer; Retailer/Distributor; and Landscape Irrigation Professional.

As a first-time visitor to the awards ceremony, I’m probably out of line to suggest that EPA add a WaterSense Plumbing Professional Partner category. Still, Irrigation Professionals get their own award; why not Plumbing Professionals?

The WaterSense awards do not overlook plumbing. Kohler Co. won its second consecutive Partner of the Year award in the Manufacturer category.

Lowe’s, the home-improvement giant that sells and promotes WaterSense plumbing products, captured EPA’s Partner award in the Retailer/Distributor category. Two water utilities in Virginia and Georgia shared the award in the Promotional category.

That brings us to WaterSense’s Irrigation Partner of the Year, which is the only category where an individual can win the award. Brian Vinchesi, president of Irrigation Consulting Inc. in Massachusetts, is the 2009 winner.

During the awards banquet, the idea struck me that the EPA should recognize a plumbing contractor or plumbing engineer as a Plumbing Professional Partner of the Year. Any number of readers of PM, and its sister publication pme for engineers, would deserve consideration for the water-efficient plumbing systems they design, promote, sell and install.

I should add here that plumbing contractors and their professional associations can become WaterSense Partners in the Retailer/Distributor and Promotional categories. PHCC-National Association and GreenPlumbers USA are partners in the latter category.

Nevertheless, a WaterSense Partner category for Plumbing Professionals would further increase the public’s awareness of individual contractors and engineers’ accomplishments to save water. Being a WaterSense Plumbing Professional would distinguish these individuals and raise the image of the entire industry.

Plumbing professionals should not appear to take a backseat to irrigation professionals, especially given the prominence of plumbing in the WaterSense program. Right now, more than 1,700 faucets, faucet accessories and toilets carry the WaterSense label compared to zero irrigation products.

The EPA created the Irrigation Professional Partner category precisely because no irrigation products carried the label. The agency wanted to create a vehicle for the irrigation industry to participate in WaterSense.

The EPA also hasn’t figured out how to certify plumbing contractors and engineers in the same way that it certifies irrigation professionals. Justifiably so, the EPA wants the WaterSense Partner designation to be a meaningful achievement for those who earn it.

In a two-year-old program that’s still evolving, the EPA should seriously consider the merits of a WaterSense Plumbing Professional Partner category. The real winners would be WaterSense, the plumbing industry and all users of water-efficient products.