Julius Ballanco: Thank-you Mr. President
The federal government does not write plumbing standards and codes.
The day after Donald Trump was elected president of the United States, I told my wife, “It will be an interesting four years.” How prophetic that has been! Whether it is fake news, mainstream media, Russia meddling, collusion accusations or the Ukraine, there have been different headlines every day.
In December, President Trump decided to take on plumbing fixtures. The Chicago Tribune reported that, on Dec. 9, the president stated, “People are flushing toilets 10 times, 15 times as opposed to once.” He went on to imply that perhaps the federal government should not be involved in regulating plumbing fixture flow rates and flushing volumes.
My first thought was, “Who flushes a 1.28-gallon-per-flush water closet 10 to 15 times?” Then I had to remember that it was a politician speaking. So, maybe he meant twice. But then again, who flushes twice?
I had to recall that, in politics, facts don’t matter. All that matters is “perceived” facts. It is perceived that water closets have to be flushed 10 to 15 times.
From the Tribune article, the president mentioned sinks and showers, implying we should also have more water for these fixtures. Apparently, the President believes there is so much rainwater that rushes out to the sea that we should be flushing with that water and using it for showering.
It then dawned on me I once had to stay and present a seminar at a newly constructed Trump casino hotel in Atlantic City, New Jersey. When I took a shower in the morning, I nearly drowned because there was so much water. It was obvious that the flow restrictors had been removed from the showerheads.
I went to the front desk and asked to speak to the manager about the showers. I informed the manager that the flow restrictor had been removed and it violated the state of New Jersey plumbing code. The manager’s response was, “The people all like more water. What is the problem?” In other words, the heck with the law.
Getting back to the president’s comments: He can try and change the federal law all he wants, but it will not have any impact on the plumbing profession. We no longer rely on federal legislation to regulate water flow rates and consumption.
The plumbing standard for water closets, ASME A112.19.2/CSA B45.1, regulates flush volumes. The standard allows a maximum of 1.6 gpf for low-consumption water closets, and 1.28 gpf for high-efficiency water closets.
The plumbing codes all reference ASME A112.19.2/CSA B45.1. All water closets are required by the International Plumbing Code, Uniform Plumbing Code and National Standard Plumbing Code to comply with this standard. The fixtures also are required to be listed by a third-party agency as complying with the standard.
Similarly, showerhead flow rates are regulated by ASME A112.18.1/CSA B125.1. The maximum flow rate for a showerhead is 2.5 gpm. High-efficiency showerheads are permitted a maximum of 2.0 gpm. Again, this standard is referenced in all the plumbing codes.
The plumbing codes are adopted by state and local jurisdictions. They also are enforced on a local level. Hence, the plumbing code mandates the flow rates and flush volumes.
What the president fails to realize is that the federal government does not write plumbing standards. They also do not write plumbing codes. President Trump can completely remove the federal water conservation requirements, and nothing will change. The president still won’t be able to buy a 5-gal.-flush water closet and install it. As the old saying goes, “That horse left the barn a long time ago.”
Why would any plumbing manufacturer go back to a water-wasting water closet? The old five-gal.-flush water closets had minimal engineering behind the design. It was merely a matter of adding more water and everything will go down the drain. The switch to 1.6-gpf water closets presented a challenge to the plumbing manufacturing engineers. They took that challenge and created much better water closets, dropping to 1.28 gpf. The performance of modern water closets outdoes the old-style water closets.
What the president needs to understand is we don’t just look at a lot of rainwater in some parts of the country. Living in the Chicago area, I always kid that we cannot suck Lake Michigan dry. There is more to flushing and showering than the abundance of water in certain parts of the country.
The major benefits are to the infrastructure. If we flush with five gallons or more, the water utility has to treat that additional water. Then, when it runs down the sewer, the treatment plant has to treat that additional wastewater. Larger water mains will be required in the street. Larger sewers also will be required.
Who is going to pay for all of this additional expense? The public. There will be higher water bills and higher sewer bills. All of this because the president thinks people flush 10 to 15 times.
According to the Tribune, this discussion came up during a meeting about small businesses and reducing red tape. If regulating plumbing fixture flow rates and flush volumes is red tape, it is good red tape. Regulating plumbing and building construction, for that matter, protects public health and safety. Are we going to revert back to the days of letting people die from poor plumbing or poor construction?
Imagine returning to the early 1900s where thousands of citizens died each year from poor water quality and sanitation. The Flint, Michigan incident would look like a picnic compared to that time in our history.
Fortunately, the engineering community pays little attention to what our politicians say. Engineers are not in the profession to get votes or campaign donations. We do what is right to protect the public.
So, thank-you for your comments, Mr. President. Pardon us if we choose to ignore what you are saying.
Leave the plumbing to the plumbing profession. We know what we are doing.