Vol.4 No.8: August 17, 2010
Should the Federal Government Stick Its Nozzle in Your Shower?
By Amy Kaleita, Ph.D., Senior Fellow in Environmental Studies, Pacific Research Institute
oned, the same result could be obtained by effective pricing of water, instead of intrusive regulation.
In May, the DOE announced a new interpretation of the word “showerhead” as used in the decades-old Energy Policy and Conservation Act (ECPA) passed in 1975 and since updated several times. The ECPA currently limits water use by showerheads to 2.5 gallons per minute (gpm) at 80 psi. Until now, manufacturers could market systems with multiple showerheads, as long as each conformed to the 2.5 gpm limit.
Under the new interpretation, shower systems must conform to the 2.5 gpm limit in total, regardless of the number of sprayers. At first glance, the impact of this interpretation may seem small, but the DOE is taking it seriously. In May, according to the Wall Street Journal, the DOE’s general counsel fined four plumbing manufacturers $165,104 in civil penalties, alleging that they failed to demonstrate compliance for some showerhead devices. For the most part, only high-end systems have multiple spray heads but the new government rules may impact more conventional systems as well.
It is unclear, for example, how the crackdown will apply to multiple-head units installed in communal settings like gyms and locker rooms. Further, systems that combine a traditional showerhead with an auxiliary detachable head, often used by the elderly and the disabled (also popular among people with dogs), are more commonplace than the “luxury” units, but would still be prohibited under the new interpretation. The federal rules could also affect people who install waist-level jets to help relieve chronic lower-back pain.
But more troubling, while the DOE claims that this is an issue of closing a loophole and promoting water and energy conservation, it is really about the federal government mandating a particular lifestyle and limiting consumer choice. That applies not only in what kind of shower head to buy and install, but also in how to bathe.
If water conservation (and the associated energy in hot-water heating) is a goal, a more appropriate and far less intrusive approach is simply to price water to reflect its value as a consumable resource. For example, an increasing block pricing structure would provide relatively low-cost water for basic needs, while providing larger amounts of water (for more “luxury“ uses) at increasingly higher rates.
Instead of intruding government regulation into one’s very shower stall, this approach encourages conservation through price signals that make excessive water use expensive. Consumers remain free to decide how to use their water. For example, some people may choose to have irrigated lawns or gardens, and others may choose to take long low-flow showers. Some people may choose to take short high-flow showers, and others might choose to conserve as much as possible on all fronts to save money and water.
People who wish to employ water-using technologies, for therapeutic purposes and otherwise, should be free to do so if they are willing and able to pay for it. Maintaining this liberty will not put the environment and energy supply at risk. Water and energy conservation are worthy endeavors but the Department of Energy of the United States Government should not be in the business of regulating people’s showers.