Commentary

Thanks to the EPA, Even If You Like Your Shower, You Can't Keep It

Ernest Istook
By Ernest Istook | March 24, 2015 | 4:38 PM EDT

(Photo Courtesy of Congressman Ernest Istook)

A good shower is one of life's simple pleasures. Until it gets interrupted by government.

If you like your shower, you probably can't keep it once the bureaucrats are done. The War on Women and Men Taking Showers began with a 1992 law that restricts how much water can flow through each nozzle. In 2010, the feds cracked down against multiple-nozzle showerheads. Now the EPA wants to limit how long we can stay in the shower.

The Environmental Protection Agency is subsidizing development by the University of Tulsa of a shower-timing system that allows people to be billed according to their time in the shower. The concept starts by providing hotels with real-time reports on each guest. With normal bureaucratic progression, this could soon become a requirement that everybody is metered in their showers at home.

This is government pushing us around. It is part of the “nudge” philosophy pushed by President Barack Obama's former regulations czar, Cass Sunstein. He co-authored the book, Nudge, which describes how laws and regulations can push us to behave the way that government desires. We pay more for light bulbs, pay more for automobiles, pay more for electricity, and get less in the shower, all because government denies us any other choice. Indeed, the EPA grant on timing shower-taking states that behavior modification is the goal.

What difference does it make when our showering is regulated?

Surveys by soapmakers reveal that two-thirds of us shower (or bathe) daily, with the average being 5 showers per week. For American men, we shower 10 minutes at a time, with 15 minutes for women. Those who sing in the shower usually take longer—and evidently that's a majority of us.

The exact times differ in various studies. According to the EPA, the average shower is eight minutes, which they say is still too long. EPA brochures encourage us to drop down by a minute, to what would be a 7-minute norm. That's barely enough time to sing two songs!

Multiple environmental groups want more; they promote a 5-minute max. Many of these advocate taking an even-briefer “Navy shower”: 1) turn on water to rinse your hair and body; 2) turn off the water while you apply shampoo, use soap, and scrub; 3) turn on the water for a quick rinse-off, then turn it off and dry yourself.

That's hardly enough time to sing a single verse.

It's easy to imagine an EPA-run system that shuts off our water automatically when we reach their time limit. The agency claims it has no such plan; it is only making suggestions for shorter showers. But the bureaucratic practice is that suggestions become guidelines, which become policies, which become legally-binding regulations.

Bit-by-bit and drop-by-drop, the feds are stifling our showering.

The original restrictions were enacted by Congress in 1992, signed by President George H.W. Bush. That Clean Water Act dictated low-flow showerheads (2.5 gallons-per-minute max), along with 1.6 gallons-per-flush toilets. Many people turned to multi-nozzle showers to get as one workaround. Then came President Barack Obama. His bureaucrats in 2010 re-interpreted the law and declared that all nozzles combined cannot exceed 2.5 gpm. They filed lawsuits against fixture manufacturers to enforce this.

EPA keeps pushing the envelope even farther. They seek to lower the norm to 2.0 gpm or less, via a series of “WaterSense” incentive awards. Innkeepers, manufacturers, homebuilders, contractors and others are asked to sign a written agreement with the EPA to voluntarily lower their allowed legal limit of water use. Those groups are then allowed to use the “WaterSense” logo on their products and advertising; they benefit from EPA's marketing campaign that supports the label.

Is all this restriction on water usage really necessary? There is no shortage of water, not even what can be made available for drought-stricken California. The problem is that moving, processing and reclaiming water all require energy. And the constant environmentalist crackdown on energy sources keeps making it too expensive to get the water everyplace where it is needed.

The federal restrictions, however, apply equally to all parts of the country, whether local water problems exist there or not.

The law of supply and demand still works. Those who choose to use more H2O can pay higher water bills for the privilege. But green advocates complain that it's unfair to let people consume more of a product simply because they can afford to do so.

What goes unmentioned is that low-flow showerheads cost more for everyone. Manufacturers must add extra internal features to enhance the water velocity, otherwise the low-flow might dribble out and fail to wash away the suds. For decent quality, the lower the flow, the higher the price.

Meanwhile, Americans are engaged in massive civil disobedience about showering. Many purchasers of new showerheads—the majority, according to reports—soon remove the flow restrictor or drill a larger hole in the shower fitting so they can enjoy more than just 2.5 gallons per minute.

Perhaps someday this will lead to a modern-day Boston Tea Party. But this time it would be the low-flow nozzles and toilets that get dumped in the harbor.

Former U.S. Congressman Ernest Istook is president of Americans for Less Regulation.

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