At last, January 1, 2001--a date welcomed as the day that saw the final and full implementation of the U.K. Water Regulations.

At last, January 1, 2001--a date welcomed not in a pedantic way as really the first day of the third millennium, but as the day that saw the final and full implementation of the U.K. Water Regulations, and for me personally, the end of a particular journey. From 1/1/01, it will be legal in the U.K. to supply and install w.c.'s with a 6-litre flush volume and a lower 4-litre maximum volume for the removal of fluid contamination, referred to here as a 6/4 dual flush.

The new Regulations will allow, for the first time, open international competition within the U.K. market, as the protectionist legislation that enshrined the siphon as the sole means of cistern operation, and effectively barred the way to the next generation of even lower flush volume appliances, is superseded.

The History of Water Conservation

Water conservation within the built environment became a major issue for the first time in the U.K. with the drought of 1976. While this was mild in comparison with global droughts, it concentrated the minds of both legislators and the industry on finding ways of improving our preparedness and ways to protect its "in country" market.

At that time, the water supply was controlled by the local government, which enforced the Water ByeLaws governing installation, safety and water usage. The Water ByeLaws may be traced back to the 1840s, when, under the provision of the Waterworks Clauses Act of 1847, regulatory powers were introduced to control waste and misuse. Earlier evidence from the Manchester and Salford Act of 1823 illustrated that powers were required to "prevent as much as possible, the wilful and negligent use of water."

By 1867, a Select Committee report commented on the need to reduce water use attributed to w.c. operation. (A Select Committee of the House of Commons is similar in concept to a Senate hearing and can make recommendations for legislative change; a 1995 Select Committee will be referred to later that is central to the development of the legislation covered by this column).

By 1872, flush volume reduction to 2 Imperial gallons, or 9 litres, had been forced through in the face of opposition from the w.c. manufacturers. By 1900, regulations or local ByeLaws had been passed by Parliament for most of the major cities in the U.K.

In 1919, the Joint Committee on Water Regulations laid the basis for Model ByeLaws to be accepted nationally. In 1926, the Ministry of Health, the successor governmental body responsible for this area to the local government board, issued revised Model ByeLaws and Specification of Fittings. These remained in place until 1947, when the Water Act (1945) replaced all the previously fragmented legislation.

The final set of Water ByeLaws were introduced in 1989, and the responsibility for enforcement in England and Wales passed to the newly privatised water industry. Scotland avoided privatisation, as it still does up to the present.

Attempting To Reduce Flush Volume

As readers of this column may recall, I entered this extraordinary business in 1974, and by the drought of 1976, was convinced that the most effective way to reduce water usage without requiring changes in personal habits was to reduce w.c. flush volume. In response to the drought, my group developed, with industry research funding, a siphon flushed w.c that operated on 6 litres.

Carried out from 1978 to 1981, this work was successful and could have opened the way for a lowering of the flush specified through the Water ByeLaws. Unfortunately, as we later discovered, we had been expected to show that 6 litres was impractical, and the work's publication was embargoed by its sponsors for three years.

The case for a 6-litre flush was supported by Building Research Establishment input, the U.K. equivalent of the National Institute of Standards and Technology. However, primarily due to industry lobbying, the Water ByeLaws of 1989 only included a reduction in the w.c. flush volume to 7.5 litres and retained the siphon as the only approved flushing mechanism, effectively ignoring the 6-litre European standard. Dual-flush, which had been tentatively used from the mid-1970s, was withdrawn, as it was thought that users found it too difficult to choose the right flush volume. Visitors to the U.K. may remember the requirement to hold the flush handle down for full flush and release early for half flush-difficult to explain in 40 languages. These decisions were bitterly contested as providing short-sighted industry protection.

Promoting the Removal of the ByeLaws

The privatisation of the water industry in England and Wales led to the Water ByeLaws being seen as an inappropriate legislative device. In 1995, a Select Committee of the House of Commons was established to report on Conservation and Supply, its remit including the replacement of the Water ByeLaws, as well as water conservation.

The Committee took evidence in session from, among others, Amy Vickers and Steve Ostrega from the U.S., as well as written evidence. I had never offered written evidence to a Select Committee; however, I submitted that 6 litres and below were feasible, dual-flush with an improved operating mechanism was advisable, and that the protectionism prevalent in earlier legislation should be removed, along with the monopoly of siphon-activated flushing. In many ways, I felt a lot better after formulating this evidence, as I believed that we should take initiatives to reduce water consumption. My research, including the production of a 3-litre w.c. successfully used in developing countries, and my contacts with researchers and industry enthusiasts in Europe, Australia and the U.S., reinforced my view that it was time the U.K. caught up.

The moral here is "Don't offer evidence to Parliamentary Select Committees." Shortly after the publication of the Committee report advocating a 6-litre flush volume and reintroduction of dual-flush operation, I was asked to chair the Water Regulations Advisory Committee, WRAC, for the Department of the Environment. The remit was the introduction of the first Water Regulations to replace the provisions of the Water ByeLaws.

Work commenced in the summer of 1996. My committee was composed of a dozen experts drawn from across industry and non-governmental organisations. Each member was present as an individual and not as an organisation representative, which put the sole member from the w.c. manufacturers under considerable personal pressure.

Although the content of the Water Regulations covered the whole range of water use and fittings within buildings-from backflow prevention to regulations governing garden pond size-reaching agreement on the w.c. specification dominated. Setting w.c. flush volume, the introduction of dual-flush, and ending the siphon monopoly absorbed an immense effort, with discussions reaching up to Ministerial level.

The industry, concentrated primarily in Stoke-on-Trent, involved all their local Members of Parliament (the equivalent to local Congressmen), exclusively Labour and members of the governing party, in writing to Ministers to point out the unemployment that would follow these changes-this despite the fact that U.K. firms were exporting w.c.s similar to the proposed specification to Europe and the Far East as the discussions progressed.

Observing the Outcome

The final content of the Water Regulations, including flush volume, dual-flush, and the decision to allow both siphons and other flushing mechanisms such as drop valves or pressurised cisterns, was previewed in a press release in January 1997. The industry lobbied continuously for an extension in time until implementation was necessary to allow them to re-tool and re-design their products. This led to the introduction of the main body of the Regulations in July 1999, with an eighteen-month delay prior to the full implementation of the sections governing w.c. specification.

And now it's over. The Regulations are in place, and the acceptance tests for all w.c.'s to be sold in the U.K.-written by Heriot-Watt University-are being implemented. We still lag behind in the exploitation of water conservation, but we have taken a major step forward.

These issues will become even more important in the future. We will need to be flexible in implementing the Regulations to allow for innovation, underlining the need for industry/research collaboration. WRAC's mission continues with an audit of the enforcement of the Regulations by the privatised water companies-but that's a topic for a future column.

And finally, the U.K. National Lottery has just announced a grant of $1.5M, with a $0.5M top up from the European Union, to establish a museum honouring the U.K. w.c. manufacturers in Stoke-on-Trent. While this may be a visitor attraction, it perhaps emphasises our industrial past, rather than an innovative future.