Under a law passed by the City Council today, new toilets will have to be high water efficient or “dual-flush,” which allow users to choose between a high pressure flush for solid waste, and a low-pressure flush for liquid. The law, which significantly changes the city plumbing code starting July 2012, applies the same strict water efficiency standards to plumbing fixtures like showerheads, urinals and sink faucets.
The package of water conservation bills also requires water fountains have separate spouts for drinking and for filling water containers; commercial buildings install alarms and sub-meters to detect water leaks; and limits the use of “once-through” cooling systems, such as those used to cool ice-making machines, walk-in coolers and older medical x-ray and laser equipment.
Advocates say the bills, part of a comprehensive package aimed at making buildings more energy efficient, could save the city 60 billion gallons of water per year once most of the older equipment is replaced. But some fear the measures – which, in some cases add 50 percent to the cost of fixtures – would just throw money down the drain.
New Yorkers use approximately 126 gallons of water per capita, per day – though residential use accounts for about 70 gallons per person, per day, according to figures from the city’s Department of Environmental Protection (DEP).
A study by the non-profit Urban Green Council estimates that simply by changing some of these commonly used fixtures could knock that down by 5-7 gallons per person, per day. More efficient cooling systems could potentially save between 150,000 and 200,000 gallons per year, it found. And changing water fountains would also encourage the use of reusable water containers, thus saving the city millions in the cost of recycling plastic bottles, the study said.
Council Minority Leader James Oddo (R-Mid-Island), who voted against the water fountain and “toilet” bill, along with colleague Vincent Ignizio (R-South Shore), said some of the measures reach too far.
“When does it stop? Does it stop when we micromanage every minute facet of our lives? I want people to drink water as much as the next guy, but to make it part of a law so that someone does not have to tilt a water container to fill it up?” Oddo said.
Ignizio also noted that New Yorkers have been paying higher water bills despite conserving water – consumption has been cut by more than 7 percent in 7 years, while water rates have nearly doubled in 10 years.
Council Speaker Christine Quinn (D-Manhattan) defended the legislation, saying the common design of water fountains do not meet the current needs of water conservation and consumption.
“Believe it or not, it is actually not easy to take a water bottle and refill it. If you try to do it, the way the spigot works, you probably get water all over yourself, and two, you end up wasting a lot of water,” Ms. Quinn said.
The water conservation laws will apply to all new construction and major renovations, or whenever a homeowner needs a Department of Buildings (DOB) permit to replace a bathroom or kitchen fixtures.
Dual flush toilets are commonly available in Europe, but do not currently comply with the city’s plumbing code. According to some estimates, dual flush toilets cost about 5 percent more than others, on average. A comparison study by Urban Green Council found that dual-flush toilets result in 23-32 percent less water usage than conventional fixtures and the average water savings from replacing existing plumbing fixtures with dual-flush fixtures was 10,600 gallons per year per home.