Updated June 3, 2021
WaterSense® Program: Congressional Authorization
WaterSense is a voluntary labeling program created by the
Under WaterSense, EPA establishes water efficiency
U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) to encourage
specifications for products, services, and homes. These
the development and use of water-efficient products and
specifications also identify which testing protocols should
services. Through WaterSense, EPA develops water
be used to evaluate the product. EPA requires
efficiency specifications for products, certain services, and
manufacturers, service providers, and home builders who
homes; licenses third-party certification bodies; and
wish to use a WaterSense label to have their products,
maintains a registry of WaterSense-labeled products and
services, and homes certified that they achieve the water
certified services.
efficiency specification. Third-party organizations provide
the certifications. EPA licenses these certification
EPA initially established WaterSense in 2006. The 115th
organizations, which must also maintain accreditation from
Congress authorized and expanded WaterSense in
EPA-approved accreditation bodies.
America’s Water Infrastructure Act of 2018 (AWIA; P.L.
115-270), Section 4306 (42 U.S.C. §6294b).
EPA has issued WaterSense specifications for a variety of
Funding levels for WaterSense have remained consistent
products, including residential toilets, showerheads,
for several years, notwithstanding the Trump
bathroom faucets, commercial toilets, urinals, irrigation
Administration’s FY2018 through FY2021 proposals to
controllers, and spray sprinkler bodies.
eliminate such funding. The Biden Administration does not
propose an elimination for WaterSense funding in FY2022.
To obtain certification to use a WaterSense label,
FY2021 funding for WaterSense is the same as the FY2020
manufacturers must first develop products that meet EPA
and FY2019 enacted funding levels of $4.5 million,
specifications. EPA states that a water-efficient product
according to the joint explanatory statement that
should generally (1) reduce water use by at least 20% from
accompanied the Consolidated Appropriations Act, 2021
federally mandated water-use conservation standards and
(P.L. 116-260). A description of the WaterSense program,
(2) function at least as well as regular models. For products
authorization, and revisions follows.
without federal standards, such as irrigation equipment,
Figure 1. WaterSense Labels
WaterSense certifications are based on calculations of
average efficiency.
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

partnership agreement with EPA. In the agreement, EPA
Source: EPA.gov.
expects manufacturers to report the number of WaterSense-
Note: Compiled by CRS.
labeled products sold annually. EPA uses this data to
Program Design
calculate water and energy savings attributable to the
WaterSense program as well as the return on investment.
WaterSense supports voluntary partnerships with service
providers, manufacturers, retailers, and other organizations
EPA’s 2018 WaterSense Accomplishments report states
that manufacture, distribute, certify, or promote
that over 30,000 product models have been certified. More
WaterSense-labeled products, homes, and/or services.
than half of these products are faucet models.
The WaterSense program design is similar to ENERGY
Irrigation Services
STAR, another voluntary labeling program established by
EPA issued WaterSense specifications to certify irrigation
EPA in 1992. The Department of Energy and EPA jointly
services in June 2014. To earn a WaterSense certification,
administer ENERGY STAR, which was authorized in the
irrigation service providers must have specific professional
Energy Policy Act of 2005 (P.L. 109-58, §131). For more
experience and demonstrate their applied knowledge
information, see CRS In Focus IF10753, ENERGY STAR
, by Corrie E. Clark.

WaterSense® Program: Congressional Authorization
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
 irrigation audits.
years after their adoption or major revision. AWIA did not
include an authorization of appropriations for WaterSense.
EPA expects irrigation service providers to renew their
WaterSense certification every two years. The agency also
AWIA specifies categories of products, buildings,
expects third-party certifying organizations to report to
landscapes, facilities, processes and services that EPA may
EPA on the number of certifications issued annually.
include under the program. These include point-of-use
According to EPA, more than 2,900 service providers have
water treatment devices; water reuse and recycling
earned the WaterSense certification.
technologies; various irrigation, landscaping, and gardening
products and technologies; whole-house humidifiers; and
water-efficient buildings.
Also in June 2014, EPA released the final water efficiency
specification for WaterSense homes. The agency requires
Before AWIA, WaterSense program guidelines did not
WaterSense-labeled homes to meet specifications for indoor
define a timeline to review water efficiency specifications,
water use (e.g., plumbing fixtures and fittings and
although, in the guidelines, EPA reserved the right to revise
appliances), outdoor water use (e.g., landscape design), and
specifications in response to technological or market
resident or building management education (e.g., operation
changes. Before AWIA, EPA had not revised any
and maintenance manual for water-using equipment and
WaterSense product specifications. In 2020, EPA
controls). These specifications are intended to make these
determined not to revise product specifications adopted
homes approximately 20% more water efficient than similar
before 2012. EPA has made technical clarifications to the
new homes.
specifications for showerheads and tank-type toilets.
However, the national standards for plumbing products
Third-party organizations inspect and certify WaterSense-
have not changed since the specifications were developed
labeled homes. These organizations hire or contract with
over some time.
inspectors who evaluate homes and decide whether a home
receives the WaterSense label. WaterSense builders must
In October 2018, EPA announced the discontinuation of
comply with EPA’s partnership agreement that requires
specifications for commercial pre-rinse spray valves. EPA
them to construct and certify at least one WaterSense-
discontinued this specification because the Department of
labeled home annually. EPA expects WaterSense builders
Energy revised the national standard for commercial pre-
to annually report to EPA the number of new homes built
rinse spray valves to include the WaterSense efficiency
that earned a WaterSense label.
Other Partnerships
In 2021, EPA finalized the specification for soil moisture-
EPA partners with several other types of organizations to
based irrigation controllers and updated the WaterSense
promote and encourage the distribution of WaterSense-
home program.
labeled products, certified services, and homes.
Water and Energy Savings
Promotional partners include water utilities, governments,
Depending on the product or service type, EPA uses
and trade associations that encourage the use of WaterSense
different models to estimate water savings from data
products, homes, and services. EPA also partners with
provided by their partners. From 2006 to 2019, EPA
retailers and distributors that market, sell, and promote
estimates that the program saved 4.4 trillion gallons of
WaterSense-labeled products. EPA expects both partnership
water. EPA also calculates energy savings attributed to
types to report annually on their activities to promote or sell
WaterSense. EPA estimates that the WaterSense program
WaterSense-labeled products.
has saved 522.9 billion kilowatt hours through reduced
WaterSense Label Costs
energy use in all phases of water delivery, use, and
Manufacturers and other applicants are responsible for costs
associated with WaterSense certification, including testing
EPA’s Office of Inspector General (OIG) reported on the
and inspections. The costs to obtain a WaterSense
WaterSense program in August 2017. The 2017 OIG report
certification may vary significantly depending on the
found that consumers saved $1,100 for every federal dollar
product, service, or type of home seeking certification. In
spent on the WaterSense program. OIG found that
addition, certification costs for products may be combined
sufficient internal controls were in place to support the
with other testing for health and safety compliance.
program’s water and energy savings claims but that EPA
Program Authorization and Revisions
could improve tracking the number of partners working to
improve water efficiency. OIG recommended that EPA
AWIA Section 4306 authorized the WaterSense program to
require WaterSense partners to periodically recommit to the
identify and promote water efficient products, buildings,
landscapes, services, facilities, and processes to conserve
water and energy. It also directs EPA to consider whether to
Elena H. Humphreys, Analyst in Environmental Policy
review and revise (if necessary) water efficiency
specifications adopted before January 1, 2012. These
include specifications for lavatory faucets, flushing urinals,

WaterSense® Program: Congressional Authorization

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https://crsreports.congress.gov | IF11128 · VERSION 7 · UPDATED