Water Conservation Requirement Primer

July 10, 2017
A guide to water conservation requirements in the U.S.

About the author: Jin Lou is executive vice president of Asia Pacific operations and laboratory recognition for IAPMO. Lou can be reached at [email protected].

The concept of water conservation has been recognized in the U.S. for more than 60 years. In the 1950s, the Water Resources Policy Commission published “A Water Policy for the American People” that read, “We can no longer be wasteful and careless in our attitude towards our water resources. Not only in the West, where the crucial value of water has long been recognized, but in every part of the country, we must manage and conserve water if we are to make the best use of it for future development.”

Water is an important resource that should be managed well and conserved. In recent decades, the U.S. government has taken an active role in enforcing the use of water-saving technology in residential homes and commercial buildings. To encourage this, rebates have been offered to consumers who switch to products that use less water. The following is a quick guide to the major requirements related to water-saving technology in the U.S.


WaterSense is a voluntary partnership and labeling program launched by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) in 2006 designed to reduce municipal water use across the country. Through the use of the WaterSense label, consumers can easily identify products that use 20% less water and perform well. To obtain this label, products are tested for efficiency and performance to WaterSense specifications (see Figure 2, page 18) and are certified by a third-party licensed certification body. To date, there are seven WaterSense product specifications released by EPA with more to come.

Jurisdictions across the country have adopted the voluntary requirements and made them mandatory, including New York City, Georgia, Colorado and Massachusetts.

U.S. Department of Energy

The U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) is authorized by the Energy Policy and Conservation Act of 1975 to enforce compliance with energy and water conservation standards established for certain consumer products and commercial and industrial equipment.

DOE published certification, compliance and enforcement regulations for the affected products and equipment in the Code of Federal Regulations. These regulations describe how manufacturers must establish certified ratings by conducting DOE test procedures on a sample of units of a given basic model and subsequently applying DOE’s statistical sampling plans. The regulations also describe how manufacturers must submit certification reports to DOE and maintain records underlying the certification. Finally, the regulations describe processes for DOE-initiated testing and enforcement of compliance with certification provisions and energy and water conservation standards.

DOE regulates water closets, urinals, showerheads, faucets and commercial pre-rinse spray valves. It also regulates manufacturers and private labelers. Failure to comply with the regulations could result in civil penalty.


CALGreen essentially is a stringent building code that sets minimum requirements for new buildings and renovations in the state of California to meet certain sustainability and ecological standards. It became effective Jan. 1, 2011. Every new structure built in California since then must meet the baseline of efficiency and sustainability standards. The CALGreen guidelines were revised in 2014.

CALGreen encourages sustainable construction practices for projects involving:

  • Planning and design;
  • Energy efficiency;
  • Water efficiency and conservation;
  • Material conservation and resource efficiency; and
  • Environmental quality.

CALGreen requires a 20% reduction of indoor water use for fixtures and fittings (see Figure 1, page 16). It also regulates outdoor water usage, requiring that irrigation systems have controls based on weather or soil moisture. Controls also must automatically adjust irrigation in response to changes in plants’ needs as weather conditions change, or have rain sensors or communication systems that account for local rainfall.

California Energy Commission

The California Energy Commission (CEC) is the state’s primary energy policy and planning agency. It was established in 1974 and is responsible for forecasting future energy needs and promoting energy efficiency and conservation by setting the state’s appliance and building energy efficiency standards.

On April 1, 2015, California Gov. Jerry Brown issued Executive Order B-29-15 to improve the efficiency of water appliances due to severe water shortages caused by the prolonged drought. As a result, CEC adopted a new emergency standard affecting toilets, wall-mount urinals, kitchen and lavatory faucets, and showerheads. Residential lavatory faucets were the first products required to comply with the standard in September 2016, with other product tiers following it in a series of effective dates. Affected products must be certified with CEC by the specified deadline before they can be legally sold in California.

The Green Supplement

The IAPMO Green Plumbing & Mechanical Code Supplement (The Green Supplement) is a document that establishes requirements for green buildings and water efficiency applicable to plumbing, mechanical and solar energy systems. It serves as an adjunct to the Uniform Plumbing Code and the Uniform Mechanical Code. It requires at least 20% reduction in water use for:

  • High-efficiency plumbing fittings, fixtures and appliances;
  • Water softening equipment;
  • Boiler makeup water; and
  • Cooling towers and evaporative coolers.

It also includes occupancy-specific provisions in restaurants and medical facilities.

Several cities in the U.S., such as Lincoln, Neb., Chicago, and states like Georgia and Oregon have adopted provisions from the supplement to increase water conservation and energy efficiency.

As factors such as drought and growing population stress water supplies, the concept of water conservation is increasingly important. Nowadays, one could look at water as the new oil. We should conserve and manage it well for future generations. 

About the Author

Jin Lou

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