We don’t suffer from a shortage of water in this country. We suffer from an abundance of waste.

That’s the view of 84-year-old “eco-pioneer” S. David Freeman, who kicked off the two-day International Emerging Technology Symposium last month in Ontario, Calif., with a stirring keynote address. While I don’t agree with everything he had to say, I fully support Freeman’s call to action to members of the plumbing industry.

“Those of us who know the most about water are the ones who say the least,” Freeman told about 180 plumbing contractors, engineers, inspectors, code officials, manufacturers and labor leaders. “The airwaves are dominated by people shooting their mouths off who don’t know what they’re talking about.

“We’re just too damn polite. That’s our problem.”

Political leaders don’t take action on their own, he said; we have to make them do it. To illustrate his point, Freeman said the rest of Europe didn’t pay much attention to Greece’s financial woes until the Greek masses took to the streets of Athens.

“It’s up to us who know something about the subject matter to speak to our legislators with hard facts and specific programs,” Freeman said. “The attitude of most engineers is that politics is dirty, but it’s going to continue to be dirty until we get involved.”

The event, sponsored by IAPMO and the World Plumbing Council, highlighted technologies that conserve water and save energy. As the moderator for the second day of the symposium, I was surprised to hear Freeman take on leaders of the green movement as well as politicians.

“I’m angry at the green movement because they talk out of both sides of their mouth,” he said. “They talk green from one side and don’t speak up to support raising water and energy rates we need to invest in our infrastructure. All the yakking in the world won’t do any good if the money isn’t there.”

Freeman, whose water conservation efforts date back to the Carter administration, supervised the giveaway of low-flush toilets in Los Angeles in the 1990s. His solution to today’s water problem in California and elsewhere is to reuse water.

The idea of reusing water is neither complicated nor new, he said. The technology to recycle water already exists, although installing it would require massive investments in infrastructure.

Such investments would result in substantially higher water rates and Freeman anticipates tremendous public resistance to these increases. The upside for the plumbing industry, he noted, would be that this work would result in a large source of activity for people who make, distribute, specify and install pipe.

What Freeman failed to mention is that a significant amount of behavior modification would have to take place for consumers to accept recycled water and use it efficiently. Research has shown that some people use recycled water as if it were an unlimited resource.

Also, I differ with the impression Freeman’s speech may have left about the extent of our water conservation accomplishments. A speaker from the U.S. EPA noted later in the symposium that WaterSense-labeled products saved 9 billion gallons of water last year alone.

No disagreement, though, with Freeman’s main point: The plumbing industry must take a more active role to make sure we use water even more efficiently.