American times: Low-flow lavatory law drives households round the bend

WASHINGTON

FOR ANYONE aspiring to public office, and for television satirists of every hue there is one line that is guaranteed to raise laughter and cheers across the land. "It's high time to get the federal government out of our bathrooms. Let's get the government out of the toilet!"

If you were wondering what the US federal government, or indeed any government, was doing there in the first place, listen to Representative James Traficant Jnr, a Democrat from Ohio, who is one of several Congressmen to have made the issue his own. "Mr Speaker," he opined, "a flush is not a flush. The old standard lavatory flushed away 3.5 gallons of water; so Congress in its inimitable wisdom passed a new law that said all toilets in America must use only 1.6 gallons of water. Since then, Americans are flushing, flushing, flushing like mad, wasting more water than ever, recklessly trying to remove all of that void."

That was two years ago, when the then five-year-old law came up for review. Now, two things - the drought on the eastern seaboard and a fresh attempt to have the law repealed - have flipped open the lavatory lid once again to reveal what every American has known since 1992 but was too embarrassed to say. The new loos don't work, and - hooray - it's not just you. If they don't actually clog up, they don't do - to put it delicately - all they are supposed to.

You can gauge the inadequacy of the 1.6 gallon cisterns by the number of bathroom dealers proclaiming in their adverts that their particular brand of environmentally responsible new-flush, low-flow (or "lo-flo") lavatory is the only one that will really do the job. You can gauge it also by the notes that you find, not just in restaurants and hotels, but in private homes as well, instructing you how to flush (hold it down) and what to do it if doesn't work (try again).

A Michigan builder who testified before Congress last month said that the size of the lavatory cistern was now an issue whenever he fitted out a new house. A plumber admitted "cannibalising" the lavatories from old houses to install in new ones to get around the regulations. His Congressman, Joe Knollenberg - who is sponsoring the bill to have the law repealed - said he had received "thousands" of calls, letters and e-mail messages in support.

The really desperate admit to making weekend flits to Canada to buy non- regulation models from north of the border (where your cistern can be as big as US ones used to be). Bathroom shops and warehouses in border towns have risen to the opportunity, advertising their "Canadian" lavatories just past the frontier post. The "land of the free" now boasts a black market in lavatories whose proportions would not have disgraced the old Soviet Union.

Lavatories were not the only bathroom equipment to come in for scrutiny under the 1992 law: national standards were set also for taps and for that American staple that was for so long the envy of visiting Europeans - the really forceful shower.

The result has been a lamentable decline in the pressure of bathroom showers to the point where they are almost - dare one say - British in their half-heartedness. Seinfeld, the television comedy series (now ended), showed the characters complaining that the new shower heads just didn't wash the shampoo out of their hair. (It doesn't necessarily, as I can vouch, lather the shower gel either).

The reason for the law, of course, was to save water, and money - yours and the government's. Water in the US is mostly metered, so using less of it cuts household bills. At that time, during the recession, the law also suited plumbers and bathroom fitters, who took on new business as local authorities in drought-prone areas offered people financial inducements to trade in their old loos for new.

Government calculations held out annual savings from the new loos alone of 12,000 gallons of water, up to $50, and plenty of social and environmental guilt.

The drought does not augur well for this year's attempt to repeal the bathroom law, even though the number of Congressmen sponsoring the Bill has risen to more than 80. As of now, Americans will probably have no choice but to have the federal government in their bathrooms for a while longer. And if they were hoping just to flush it down the you-know-where ... well, now you know why they can't.

News
Netherlands' goalkeeper Tim Krul fails to make a save from Costa Rica's midfielder Celso Borges during a penalty shoot-out in the quarter-final between Netherlands and Costa Rica during the 2014 FIFA World Cup
newsGoalkeepers suffer from 'gambler’s fallacy' during shoot-outs
News
people
Travel
travel
Arts and Entertainment
Sydney and Melbourne are locked in a row over giant milk crates
artCultural relations between Sydney and Melbourne soured by row over milk crate art instillation
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
News
ebookA unique anthology of reporting and analysis of a crucial period of history
Arts and Entertainment
Adèle Exarchopoulos and Léa Seydoux play teeneage lovers in the French erotic drama 'Blue Is The Warmest Colour' - The survey found four times as many women admitting to same-sex experiences than 20 years ago
arts + entsBlue Is The Warmest Colour, Bojack Horseman and Hobbit on the way
News
Two giraffes pictured on Garsfontein Road, Centurion, South Africa.
i100
Environment
View from the Llanberis Track to the mountain lake Llyn
Du’r Arddu
environmentA large chunk of Mount Snowdon, in north Wales, is up for sale
News
Kenny Ireland, pictured in 2010.
peopleBenidorm, actor was just 68
News
i100
Arts and Entertainment
arts + ents
News
people
News
Morrissey pictured in 2013
people
News
A scene from the video shows students mock rioting
newsEnd-of-year leaver's YouTube film features playground gun massacre
News
i100
Life and Style
The director of Wall-E Andrew Stanton with Angus MacLane's Lego model
gadgetsDesign made in Pixar animator’s spare time could get retail release
News
peopleGuitarist, who played with Aerosmith, Lou Reed and Alice Cooper among others, was 71
Independent
Travel Shop
the manor
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on city breaks Find out more
santorini
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on chic beach resorts Find out more
sardina foodie
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on country retreats Find out more
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Lead Application Developer

£80000 - £90000 per annum + competitive: Progressive Recruitment: I am current...

Senior Networks Architect

£65000 per annum + 15% Pension, Health, Travel & Bonus: Progressive Recruitmen...

SAP BW/BO Consultant

£55000 - £65000 per annum + Benefits: Progressive Recruitment: SAP BW/BO CONSU...

Hydraulic Power Pack Design Engineer

competitive: Progressive Recruitment: I recruit for contract mechanical design...

Day In a Page

Dress the Gaza situation up all you like, but the truth hurts

Robert Fisk on Gaza conflict

Dress the situation up all you like, but the truth hurts
Save the tiger: Tiger, tiger burning less brightly as numbers plummet

Tiger, tiger burning less brightly

When William Blake wrote his famous poem there were probably more than 100,000 tigers in the wild. These days they probably number around 3,200
5 News's Andy Bell retraces his grandfather's steps on the First World War battlefields

In grandfather's footsteps

5 News's political editor Andy Bell only knows his grandfather from the compelling diary he kept during WWI. But when he returned to the killing fields where Edwin Vaughan suffered so much, his ancestor came to life
Lifestyle guru Martha Stewart reveals she has flying robot ... to take photos of her farm

Martha Stewart has flying robot

The lifestyle guru used the drone to get a bird's eye view her 153-acre farm in Bedford, New York
Former Labour minister Meg Hillier has demanded 'pootling lanes' for women cyclists

Do women cyclists need 'pootling lanes'?

Simon Usborne (who's more of a hurtler) explains why winning the space race is key to happy riding
A tale of two presidents: George W Bush downs his paintbrush to pen father’s life story

A tale of two presidents

George W Bush downs his paintbrush to pen father’s life story
Restaurateur Mitch Tonks has given the Great Western Pullman dining car a makeover

The dining car makes a comeback

Restaurateur Mitch Tonks has given the Great Western Pullman dining car a makeover
Gallery rage: How are institutions tackling the discomfort of overcrowding this summer?

Gallery rage

How are institutions tackling the discomfort of overcrowding this summer?
Louis van Gaal has £500,000 video surveillance system installed to monitor Manchester United players

Eye on the prize

Louis van Gaal has £500,000 video surveillance system installed to monitor Manchester United players
Women's rugby: Tamara Taylor adds fuel to the ire in quest to land World Cup

Women's rugby

Tamara Taylor adds fuel to the ire in quest to land World Cup
Save the tiger: The day America’s love of backyard tigers led to a horrific bloodbath

The day America’s love of backyard tigers led to a horrific bloodbath

With only six per cent of the US population of these amazing big cats held in zoos, the Zanesville incident in 2011 was inevitable
Samuel Beckett's biographer reveals secrets of the writer's time as a French Resistance spy

How Samuel Beckett became a French Resistance spy

As this year's Samuel Beckett festival opens in Enniskillen, James Knowlson, recalls how the Irish writer risked his life for liberty and narrowly escaped capture by the Gestapo
We will remember them: relatives still honour those who fought in the Great War

We will remember them

Relatives still honour those who fought in the Great War
Star Wars Episode VII is being shot on film - and now Kodak is launching a last-ditch bid to keep celluloid alive

Kodak's last-ditch bid to keep celluloid alive

Director J J Abrams and a few digital refuseniks shoot movies on film. Simon Usborne wonders what the fuss is about
Once stilted and melodramatic, Hollywood is giving acting in video games a makeover

Acting in video games gets a makeover

David Crookes meets two of the genre's most popular voices