By Linnea Lueken
The U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) announced it is re-imposing strict Obama-era water use standards on showerheads and other home appliances.
Before the Trump Administration rolled back the regulations in December of 2020, the old rule capped the rate of water released by all showerheads or nozzles combined in multi-head devices at only 2.5 gallons per minute. The Trump DOE revised the rule allowing each showerhead nozzle individually to spray at that rate.
In a December 15th, 2020 press release when DOE changed the rules to allow more water to flow through showerheads, then-Secretary of Energy Dan Brouillette said the rules would give consumers more choice appliances they can keep in their homes.
“With these rule changes, Americans can choose products that are best suited to meet their individual needs and the needs of their families.” said Brouillette.
Conservation Versus Choice
DOE’s new policy is focused less on granting consumers choice and more on conserving water use.
As described in the DOE’s July 16 Federal Register notice, the agency revised the rule specifying, once again, regardless of the number of nozzles in a multi-head device, showerheads can put out no more than 2.5 gallons per minute.
The truth is government efficiency rules often result in more water and energy being used after the rules are imposed, than were used previously, says Merrill Matthews Jr., Ph.D., resident scholar at the Institute for Policy Innovation.
“The news stories implying Donald Trump’s hair vanity drove him to call for showerheads with increased water flow are being dishonest.” said Matthews. “President Trump was absolutely right that low-flow showers, faucets, and toilets can actually cause people to use more water, not less, which I know from personal experience.
“I bought a new house in 1992 with the new government-required low-flow toilets and my family frequently had to flush several times when once would have been enough with the old toilets,” Matthews said. “The technology has improved over time, but the new toilets still leave something to be desired.”
Compensating for Lower Flow
Consumers and builders have adapted to the low-flow requirements by installing more showerheads, in response to manufacturers throttling the flow of water through showerheads to comply with government mandates, says Matthews.
“Manufacturers have largely continued to produce the low-flow 2.5 gallon-per-minute showerheads, despite Trump’s efforts to roll back that regulation,” Matthews said. “Many new, especially more expensive, homes compensate by putting in two or even three separate showerheads in the showers.”
Rules Should Reflect Differences
President Trump’s push for consumer choice made sense in the context of water use across the country, because some regions have more limited water resources than others, says Matthews.
“There are areas in the country where there is no shortage of water,” said Matthews. “Other areas can have severe shortages, sometimes caused by government mismanagement of supplies, as in California.
“Trump’s point was that it might make more sense to sell low-flow appliances in dryer areas, while letting those who live in areas with plenty of water do what they want,” Matthews said.
Linnea Lueken (email@example.com) writes from Laramie, Wyoming.