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Wild Green

Former Utne Reader senior editor Keith Goetzman on environmental issues from climate change to composting.

The Low-Flow Showerhead Backlash

 by Keith Goetzman

Tags: water, water conservation, water effiency, low-flow showerheads, nanny state, American Heritage Institute, environment, Keith Goetzman,

Shower head

Antigovernment conservatives love to complain about the nanny state, and some of them are aiming their ire at a new target: low-flow showerheads.

Over at The Foundry, the blog of the conservative think tank the American Heritage Institute, a freedom-loving correspondent named Kelsey Huber puts her finger on the pernicious nature of these water-efficiency devices:

Of the many microscopic issues in which the Department of Energy (DOE) involves itself, one of the most ridiculous could be showerhead flow-capacity limits. In the name of conservation, a federal law limits the amount of water that can pass through a nozzle to 2.5 gallons per minute. The law was designed to limit both water and energy use related to pumping the water.

Until recently, a loophole that allowed multi-nozzled showerheads (with each individual nozzle meeting the flow-capacity limit) put this personal choice where it belongs: in the hands of consumers. Showerheads with three or even eight nozzles could be purchased by homebuilders to equip luxury bathrooms as long as the per-nozzle water-flow limit was followed. Regrettably, the DOE decided that alternatives to the standard showerhead could no longer be allowed and, in May, sought to close the legal gap. A redefinition of showerheads is expected.

Dictating the amount of water that is to be used in a shower has little bearing on energy policy and opens the door to far more invasive measures. If the DOE can limit the energy used in showering, it could just as easily involve itself in legislating how much energy any appliance can use, how long it can be used each day, or what kind of electronics can be sold.

You’ll have to forgive me for failing to realize that our very rights are at stake here. Even though I already had a low-flow showerhead, I recently was offered a free one with even lower flow through a state- and city-supported energy efficiency program. Foolishly, I took the bait, and though I still can’t tell the difference in the shower, apparently I’ve started down the slippery slope toward complete state control of my life.

I supposed I should have followed the lead of one of Huber’s readers, “Jay,” who decided not to stand for this dictatorial state of bathroom affairs and took matters into his own hands.

“It takes about five seconds to make your shower head a full-flow head,” he wrote in a response comment. “I did it to mine and whenever I have purchased a new one I fix it as well. My water bill is MY business.”

Want to really make a statement, Jay? Equip your luxury shower with eight full-flow heads and take a half-hour shower every day. While you’re at it, turn your hose on full blast and let it run down the gutter. Leave your car idling while you sleep. And finally, make sure to pour your old motor oil into a hole in your backyard. Take that, nanny.

Source: The Foundry

Image by stevendepolo, licensed under Creative Commons.

9/7/2010 5:40:15 AM

I think the bigger picture is being overlooked, the cost of delivery of fresh water and the treatment of wastewater is shared by all the people who are connected to these public systems. With rising energy and labor costs the price for delivery and treatment of water rises and then the cost is passed along to all users by raising the per unit price. Increased demand also requires more maintenance and upgrades of existing systems, the cost of which also results in increased prices to all consumers, so everyone ends up paying for the individuals who are wasting water. If a person truly wants to be free of the nanny state they should make sure they have a well and septic field instead of being connected to a public system and then use all the water they want.

9/6/2010 3:35:40 PM

What I do may not be particularly elegant but it costs nothing but a little effort(and I live alone so who cares). I save shower water in the tub and use it to flush the toilet and/or water things outside. I take short showers too, so I'm using less to begin with and then reusing what I used in the first place.

linda eatenson
9/6/2010 11:02:38 AM

Just because you can afford to do something doesn't mean it's okay to do it. We seem to think money buys us the right to be irresponsible. It doesn't. As for regulations, it seems to me they're needed when we childishly and selfishly refuse to regulate ourselves.

michael croup
9/2/2010 7:40:05 PM

Wait to you have to deal with the "Smart Grid".

phil brown
9/1/2010 2:33:04 PM

Good point, Doug. In fact, why shower at all? Or wear clothes? Think of all the resources that could be saved -- not to mention enjoyment of God's creation -- if we could just break free of our social shackles and live in a truly natural state...

doug lass_4
9/1/2010 12:04:19 PM

I think that if you want to waste all that money from NOT having a low flow shower head, that's you're business! I guess people just want to throw away their money because many Americans feel it's their God Given right to waste money, pollute the envioroment and not give a damn about what God's creation.

phil brown
9/1/2010 11:02:32 AM

I'm genuinely curious, rriverstone: given your circumstances, how do you access the internet?

9/1/2010 9:18:22 AM

Extremely low income, living rural, here. No: running water, sewage, heat, vehicle (5 mi. from town; have to hitch hike for supplies). I solar heat (in winter, warm on hot plate) 3 gal. H20 in wash tub. Summer, I bathe outdoors; H20 goes back into garden. Winter, I bathe by fire; pour water back into garden). Full bath every 2 days; daily "bird bath." Total water consumption for week's worth of bathing: 6-9 gal., all recycled. Haven't seen a shower head for a year.

phil brown
9/1/2010 8:19:04 AM

I'm impressed at your ability to suffuse a paragraph with self-righteous arrogance, Keith -- that closer is a masterpiece. It's attitudes like this which make more reasonable people recoil from the enviro-nazis. Freedom of choice means being free to make "bad" decisions -- or more to the point, decisions with which you disagree. As a taxpayer it is enervating to see tax dollars funding a "showerhead policy bureaucracy", to say the least.

tim gieseke
9/1/2010 7:32:26 AM

That's a tough policy to grab on to. Micro-managing showerheads seems so...micro, but making sure that your city has enough water to survive and prosper seems reasonable. I guess "jay" and other "jays" will get their way (as we will never have enough plumbing police) and his water bill business will be bigger business.