December 4, 2017
WaterSense : Water-Efficiency Label and Partnership Program
WaterSense® is a voluntary labeling and partnership
program created by the U.S. Environmental Protection
Agency (EPA) to promote water efficiency. The program
initially focused on labeling water-efficient consumer
products and has expanded to include labeling of new
homes as well as certifying irrigation professionals. There
are now 16,000 WaterSense-labeled products. Issues of
possible consideration for Congress include the program’s
authorization, appropriations, and oversight.
Authorization: WaterSense is not explicitly authorized
in law. Rather, EPA implements WaterSense using
broad authorities to reduce unnecessary water
consumption (Clean Water Act, §104(a), (b), and (o))
and to provide a dependably safe supply of drinking
water (Safe Drinking Water Act, §1442(a)). Legislation
proposed in the 115th Congress would formally
authorize the program. Similar proposals in previous
Congresses were not enacted.
Appropriations: In FY2017, EPA operated WaterSense
with $3.1 million from the agency’s discretionary
appropriations. The President’s FY2018 budget request
proposed to eliminate funding for the program. EPA and
other federal agencies are currently operating under a
continuing resolution (P.L. 115-56) generally at FY2017
levels, minus rescissions, through December 8, 2017.
Oversight: In August 2017, EPA’s Office of Inspector
General (OIG) released a report, EPA’s Voluntary
WaterSense Program Demonstrated Success. The OIG
found that the program had adequate controls to ensure
that the water savings it reported as accomplishments
were reasonable. The report recommended improving
controls for tracking the number of program partners,
such as manufacturers who use the WaterSense label
and nonprofits that promote the program.
58, 42 U.S.C. §6294a). EPA and the U.S. Department of
Energy (DOE) jointly manage ENERGY STAR.
WaterSense certifies labeling for products that are at least
20% more efficient than federally mandated water-use
conservation standards and perform as well as or better than
regular models. EPA has issued WaterSense specifications
for eight product categories, including all products that
have federal water-use conservation standards (except for
dishwashers and clothes washers, which have voluntary
standards through ENERGY STAR) as well as some that do
not have federal standards. For products without federal
standards, such as irrigation equipment, WaterSense
certifications are based on calculations of average
EPA also established WaterSense specifications for nonproduct categories. A “New Home Specification”
incorporates criteria such as hot water delivery speed and
landscape design as well as use of WaterSense products.
WaterSense also has specifications for certifying irrigation
professionals. WaterSense program guidelines do not define
a timeline for review but do reserve EPA’s right to revise
specifications in response to technological or market
changes. To date, EPA has not revised any product
specifications, although it has made technical clarifications.
However, the national standards for plumbing products
have not changed since the specifications were developed.
Figure 1. WaterSense: Promotional Label
Congress first enacted statutory water-use conservation
measures in 1992 by amending the Energy Policy and
Conservation Act (42 U.S.C. §6295(j)-(k)) to address
toilets, showerheads, faucets, and urinals. Subsequent
actions have added dishwashers, clothes washers, and prerinse spray valves to the act.
In 2006, EPA launched the WaterSense program to
encourage further reduction of water use. The program was
in part a response to stakeholder requests for a program for
water similar to the ENERGY STAR® program for energy.
Both programs use public-private partnerships intended to
educate consumers and simplify the identification of highefficiency products. Unlike WaterSense, ENERGY STAR
is authorized in law (Energy Policy Act of 2005, P.L. 109-
Obtaining a WaterSense Label
EPA requires all products, homes, and certification
programs bearing the WaterSense label to be independently
certified. For products, manufacturers must apply directly
to a third-party certifying body that is licensed by EPA. The
certifying body and the manufacturer test the product in
accordance with methods in the EPA’s specification. EPA
does not require product recertification. Instead, certifying
bodies must conduct annual market surveillance on at least
15% of the models it has certified for each product
category. For homes, a third-party certifying body must
approve an inspection determining that the home meets
WaterSense®: Water-Efficiency Label and Partnership Program
necessary criteria to obtain a label. For certification of
irrigation professionals, the program requires professionals
to have certain irrigation experience and pass an exam.
Manufacturers and other applicants are responsible for costs
associated with WaterSense certification, including testing
and inspections. There are no publicly available cost
estimates for obtaining a WaterSense certification, in part
because WaterSense testing may be combined with testing
for other health and safety compliance requirements.
EPA establishes partnerships with interested stakeholders,
such as product manufacturers, local governments, water
utilities, and nonprofit organizations. The three categories
of partners are (1) those who manufacture or distribute
products; (2) those who promote the WaterSense brand
specifically and water efficiency in general; and (3) those
who certify products, homes, and irrigation professionals.
In addition to using the WaterSense label, partners receive
access to marketing materials, opportunities to collaborate
with other partners, and recognition for achievement.
EPA uses its discretionary appropriations to fund
implementation of its WaterSense program. Federal funding
for the program peaked in FY2011 at $3.6 million. In
FY2017, WaterSense was supported by $3.1 million in
appropriations. Roughly one-third of these funds are used
for developing the technical specifications, approving and
auditing certifying bodies, and consumer marketing.
Another third is spent on developing partnerships,
surveillance of how the label is being used, and
administration (e.g., website, helpline). The final third
covers the salaries of eight full-time employees. The OIG’s
2017 report estimated that consumers saved $1,100 for
every federal dollar spent on the program.
EPA estimated that in 2016, Americans saved 534 billion
gallons of water through the WaterSense program. The
savings calculation model considered WaterSense product
shipment data as well as assumptions about water use and
product lifetimes. For comparison purposes, the U.S.
Geological Survey estimated that in 2010, public water
systems in the U.S. withdrew roughly 15 trillion gallons of
water for domestic, commercial, and industrial uses.
Although WaterSense is a voluntary program, it has been
adopted more formally in several contexts:
Some states (e.g., California, Colorado, Georgia, New
York, and Texas) have incorporated WaterSense into
aspects of their minimum standards for products.
Some states (e.g., Georgia, Pennsylvania, Texas, and
Virginia) have provided tax holidays or other incentives
for purchases of WaterSense products.
Executive Order 13693, Planning for Federal
Sustainability in the Next Decade (March 25, 2015),
directs federal agencies to give purchase preference to
WaterSense-certified products and services.
Some organizations have raised concerns about individual
specifications, and EPA has largely addressed these
concerns through the specification development process.
For example, EPA modified turf grass requirements in the
new home specification to address builders’ concerns about
varying climates. EPA also halted efforts to develop watersoftener specifications in response to wastewater utility
concerns about effects on discharges.
The American Water Works Association stated in its
newsletter that WaterSense products are “a vital part of
many water utility conservation programs.” Although some
groups such as Plumbing Manufacturers International have
expressed concern about the potential for WaterSense
specifications to be incorporated into a national requirement
or formal code, as long as the program remains voluntary,
they find it to be a positive alternative to what could be a
patchwork of state and local requirements.
In the 115th Congress, WaterSense provisions have been
included in several bills (e.g., H.R. 3248, H.R. 3275, S.
1137, S. 1460, S. 1700). Although the details differ, the
bills would generally do the following:
The bills would authorize the WaterSense program in
statute. Support for authorization is broadly based on
facilitating appropriations and providing clear program
Each bill would direct the EPA Administrator to
establish and maintain water-efficiency performance
standards and promote the WaterSense label. The bills
use similar language and generally reflect the program
as it is currently implemented. A primary difference is
that, unlike the current program, they would all require
review of product specifications within a certain time
frame ranging from four to 10 years.
Most of the bills would direct EPA to coordinate with
DOE to avoid duplication with ENERGY STAR. Only
H.R. 3275 would authorize appropriations for the
program ($50 million over four years). H.R. 3248 would
also require WaterSense products to receive preference
in certain federal procurement and would authorize
incentive programs for residential water efficiency
based on WaterSense products.
WaterSense appropriations are under consideration in the
115th Congress. In its report (H.Rept. 115-238)
accompanying H.R. 3354 as reported on July 21, 2017, the
House Committee on Appropriations stated that it “rejects
the proposed elimination of the WaterSense program.” The
same expression of support for the program is included in
the explanatory statement accompanying the Senate
Appropriations Committee chairman’s draft FY2018
Interior, Environment Appropriations bill, released on
November 20, 2017. Additionally, the explanatory
statement recommended funding at FY2017 levels.
Keara B. Moore, Analyst in Environmental Policy
WaterSense®: Water-Efficiency Label and Partnership Program
This document was prepared by the Congressional Research Service (CRS). CRS serves as nonpartisan shared staff to
congressional committees and Members of Congress. It operates solely at the behest of and under the direction of Congress.
Information in a CRS Report should not be relied upon for purposes other than public understanding of information that has
been provided by CRS to Members of Congress in connection with CRS’s institutional role. CRS Reports, as a work of the
United States Government, are not subject to copyright protection in the United States. Any CRS Report may be
reproduced and distributed in its entirety without permission from CRS. However, as a CRS Report may include
copyrighted images or material from a third party, you may need to obtain the permission of the copyright holder if you
wish to copy or otherwise use copyrighted material.
https://crsreports.congress.gov | IF10787 · VERSION 6 · NEW