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Low-Flow Toilets All Wet, Some Lawmakers Say

Legislature: Thousands of complaints prompt congressmen to advocate a repeal of 1992 conservation provision.

July 28, 1999|From Associated Press

WASHINGTON — Some members of Congress want to flush away a federal law that requires new toilets to use less water.

The new low-flow commodes are intended to save water, but some lawmakers complained Tuesday that you have to flush again--and maybe again--to rinse all waste out of the bowl.

A 1992 conservation law requires less water for any new toilets installed in homes, along with lighter sprays in shower heads. New toilets are limited to 1.6 gallons of water a flush; the older toilets allowed 3.5 gallons.

Rep. Joe Knollenberg (R-Mich.), author of legislation to repeal the law, testified before a House subcommittee that he has received thousands of complaints "from disgruntled consumers who are angry that their new toilets repeatedly clog, require multiple flushing and in the end do not save water." Dozens of those complaints were written on toilet paper, he said.

"Their message is clear and straightforward: Get the federal government out of my bathroom," Knollenberg told the House Commerce Committee's subcommittee on energy and power.

The subcommittee's chairman, Rep. Joe Barton (R-Texas), said he supported the repeal legislation and hoped to move it forward.

However, other lawmakers said water was a scarce resource that must be conserved.

Rep. John D. Dingell (D-Mich.) said the low-flow toilets also would "reduce the amount of dollars this country has to spend on waste treatment."

Manufacturers say they have improved low-flow toilets in recent years. The Plumbing Manufacturers Institute wants to keep the standard, since manufacturers have invested in retooling for the 1.6-gallon toilets and could be subjected to a patchwork of state and local ordinances without it.

George Whalen, of the National Assn. of Plumbing-Heating-Cooling Contractors, told lawmakers that flushing toilets account for nearly 40% of all water consumed by an average household.

"Every day we flush more than 5 billion gallons of water down the drain," Whalen said, adding: "Switching to water-efficient plumbing fixtures could save the average household as much as $50 to $100 a year on water and waste-water treatment bills."

Still, the plunger has become a regular bathroom fixture for frustrated toilet owners who are not exactly bowled over by the new commodes, home builders testified.

"I've heard of new home owners putting instructions on their bathroom doors for guests, instructing them how to help make the toilet flush with plungers and extra cups of water. That is absurd," said Gerald Kosmensky, president of Gerald Building Co. in Southgate, Mich.

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