Updated June 25, 2020
WaterSense® Program: Congressional Authorization
WaterSense is a voluntary labeling program created by the
Energy Policy Act of 2005 (P.L. 109-58, §131). For more
U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) to encourage
information, see CRS In Focus IF10753, ENERGY STAR
the development and use of water-efficient products and
Program, by Corrie E. Clark.
services. Through WaterSense, EPA develops water
efficiency specifications for products, certain services, and
Under WaterSense, EPA establishes water efficiency
homes; licenses third-party certification bodies; and
specifications for products, services, and homes. These
maintains a registry of WaterSense-labeled products and
specifications also identify which testing protocols should
be used to evaluate the product. EPA requires
manufacturers, service providers, and home builders who
EPA initially established WaterSense in 2006. The 115th
wish to use a WaterSense label to have their products,
Congress authorized and expanded WaterSense in
services, and homes certified that they achieve the water
America’s Water Infrastructure Act of 2018 (AWIA; P.L.
efficiency specification. Third-party organizations provide
115-270), Section 4306 (42 U.S.C. §6294b).
the certifications. EPA licenses these certification
organizations, which must also maintain accreditation from
The Trump Administration has proposed to eliminate
EPA-approved accreditation bodies.
funding for the WaterSense program in FY2018, FY2019,
FY2020, and FY2021. The Further Consolidated
Appropriations Act, 2020 (P.L. 116-94), included FY2020
EPA has issued WaterSense specifications for a variety of
appropriations for EPA and other federal agencies: FY2020
products, including residential toilets, showerheads,
funding for WaterSense is the same as the FY2019 enacted
bathroom faucets, commercial toilets, urinals, irrigation
funding level of $4.5 million, according to the joint
controllers, and spray sprinkler bodies.
explanatory statement that accompanied P.L. 116-94.
AWIA does not include an authorization of appropriations
To obtain certification to use a WaterSense label,
manufacturers must first develop products that meet EPA
specifications. EPA states that a water-efficient product
A description of the WaterSense program, authorization,
should generally (1) reduce water use by at least 20% from
and revisions follows.
federally mandated water-use conservation standards and
(2) function at least as well as regular models. For products
Figure 1. WaterSense Labels
without federal standards, such as irrigation equipment,
WaterSense certifications are based on calculations of
Manufacturers may submit their products to accredited
third-party organizations for certification that the products
comply with established water efficiency specifications.
Once a product is certified, it does not have to be
recertified. However, EPA requires certification
organizations to conduct annual market surveillance on at
least 15% of the models that it has certified for each
product category and report the results to EPA.
Manufacturers of WaterSense-labeled products sign a
Notes: Compiled by CRS.
partnership agreement with EPA. In the agreement, EPA
expects manufacturers to report the number of WaterSense-
labeled products sold annually. EPA uses this data to
WaterSense supports voluntary partnerships with service
calculate water and energy savings attributable to the
providers, manufacturers, retailers, and other organizations
WaterSense program as well as the return on investment.
that manufacture, distribute, certify, or promote
WaterSense-labeled products, homes, and/or services.
EPA’s 2018 WaterSense Accomplishments report states
that over 30,000 product models have been certified. More
The WaterSense program design is similar to ENERGY
than half of these products are faucet models.
STAR, another voluntary labeling program established by
EPA in 1992. The Department of Energy and EPA jointly
administer ENERGY STAR, which was authorized in the
WaterSense® Program: Congressional Authorization
landscapes, services, facilities, and processes to conserve
EPA issued WaterSense specifications to certify irrigation
water and energy. It also directs EPA to consider whether to
services in June 2014. To earn a WaterSense certification,
review and revise (if necessary) water efficiency
irrigation service providers must have specific professional
specifications adopted before January 1, 2012. These
experience and demonstrate their applied knowledge
include specifications for lavatory faucets, flushing urinals,
through a written exam. EPA has developed WaterSense
and irrigation controllers. The act requires EPA to consider
specifications for the following services:
revising these specifications by December 31, 2019. In
April 2020, EPA stated that the agency will not revise such
Irrigation system installation and maintenance,
specifications. AWIA further directs EPA to review and, if
Irrigation system design, and
necessary, revise water efficiency specifications every six
years after their adoption or major revision.
AWIA specifies categories of products, buildings,
EPA expects irrigation service providers to renew their
landscapes, facilities, processes and services that EPA may
WaterSense certification every two years. The agency also
include under the program. These include point-of-use
expects third-party certifying organizations to report to
water treatment devices; water reuse and recycling
EPA on the number of certifications issued annually.
technologies; various irrigation, landscaping, and gardening
According to EPA, more than 2,900 service providers have
products and technologies; whole-house humidifiers; and
earned the WaterSense certification.
Before AWIA, WaterSense program guidelines did not
Also in June 2014, EPA released the final water efficiency
define a timeline to review water efficiency specifications,
specification for WaterSense homes. The agency requires
although, in the guidelines, EPA reserved the right to revise
WaterSense-labeled homes to meet specifications for indoor
specifications in response to technological or market
water use (e.g., plumbing fixtures and fittings and
changes. Before AWIA, EPA had not revised any
appliances), outdoor water use (e.g., landscape design), and
WaterSense product specifications. In 2020, EPA
resident or building management education (e.g., operation
determined not to revise product specifications adopted
and maintenance manual for water-using equipment and
before 2012. EPA has made technical clarifications to the
controls). These specifications are intended to make these
specifications for showerheads and tank-type toilets.
homes approximately 20% more water efficient than similar
However, the national standards for plumbing products
have not changed since the specifications were developed
Third-party organizations inspect and certify WaterSense-
over some time.
labeled homes. These organizations hire or contract with
In October 2018, EPA announced the discontinuation of
inspectors who evaluate homes and decide whether a home
specifications for commercial pre-rinse spray valves. EPA
receives the WaterSense label. WaterSense builders must
discontinued this specification because the Department of
comply with EPA’s partnership agreement that requires
Energy revised the national standard for commercial pre-
them to construct and certify at least one WaterSense-
rinse spray valves to include the WaterSense efficiency
labeled home annually. EPA expects WaterSense builders
to annually report to EPA the number of new homes built
that earned a WaterSense label.
In 2019, EPA drafted changes to WaterSense home
specifications and proposed a specification for soil
moisture-based irrigation control technologies.
EPA partners with several other types of organizations to
promote and encourage the distribution of WaterSense-
Water and Energy Savings
labeled products, certified services, and homes.
Depending on the product or service type, EPA uses
Promotional partners include water utilities, governments,
different models to estimate water savings from data
and trade associations that encourage the use of WaterSense
provided by their partners. From 2006 to 2018, EPA
products, homes, and services. EPA also partners with
estimates that the program saved 3.4 trillion gallons of
retailers and distributors that market, sell, and promote
water. EPA also calculates energy savings attributed to
WaterSense-labeled products. EPA expects both partnership
WaterSense. EPA estimates that the WaterSense program
types to report annually on their activities to promote or sell
has saved 462.5 billion kilowatt hours through reduced
energy use in all phases of water delivery, use, and
WaterSense Label Costs
Manufacturers and other applicants are responsible for costs
EPA’s Office of Inspector General (OIG) reported on the
associated with WaterSense certification, including testing
WaterSense program in August 2017. The 2017 OIG report
and inspections. The costs to obtain a WaterSense
found that consumers saved $1,100 for every federal dollar
certification may vary significantly depending on the
spent on the WaterSense program. OIG found that
product, service, or type of home seeking certification. In
sufficient internal controls were in place to support the
addition, certification costs for products may be combined
program’s water and energy savings claims but that EPA
with other testing for health and safety compliance.
could improve tracking the number of partners working to
improve water efficiency. OIG recommended that EPA
Program Authorization and Revisions
require WaterSense partners to periodically recommit to the
AWIA Section 4306 authorized the WaterSense program to
identify and promote water efficient products, buildings,
WaterSense® Program: Congressional Authorization
Elena H. Humphreys, Analyst in Environmental Policy
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