The Energy Department proposed rolling back three-decade-old efficiency standards for showerheads Wednesday following President Donald Trump’s repeated gripes about subpar water pressure while bathing.
The plan essentially seeks to change the federal definition of a showerhead to allow manufacturers to dramatically increase water use.
Under rules Congress passed in 1992 in response to severe droughts, water flow from an entire showerhead is limited to 2.5 gallons per minute. The proposed change would allow manufacturers to apply that restriction to each nozzle on a showerhead.
The proposal would reverse 2011 guidance from the Department of Energy that determined that when Congress used the term showerhead, it “actually meant ‘any showerhead’―and that a showerhead with multiple nozzles constitutes a single showerhead for purposes of [the] water conservation standard.”
Conservation advocates called the proposal a “gimmick in search of a problem” and likened the complaint to a 1996 Seinfeld episode about low-flow showerheads.
“The new multi-nozzle showerheads would not only needlessly waste water, exacerbating shortages caused by drought, but also boost the carbon pollution that has made long-term droughts worse,” Andrew deLaski, executive director of the Appliance Standards Awareness Project, said in a blog post on Wednesday. “No one benefits from this gimmick.”
Trump has long complained that efficiency standards on showers, toilets, and washers make using the devices less satisfying, and last month he vowed to “bring back consumer choice in home appliances.”
“Showerheads—you take a shower, the water doesn’t come out. You want to wash your hands, the water doesn’t come out. So what do you do?” he said during a July 16 speech at the White House. “You just stand there longer or you take a shower longer? Because my hair—I don’t know about you, but it has to be perfect. Perfect.”
Both rollbacks are likely to face legal challenges.
Roughly three-quarters of showerhead models for sale use at least 20 percent less water than the legal limit, according to deLaski’s analysis of federal data. The top-rated showerheads on the product-review site Wirecutter used 1.75 gallons of water per minute.
Increasing water use would add new stress to the environment and ratepayers at a moment when both are under severe and mounting pressure.
Three entire U.S. states―Colorado, Nevada, and New Mexico―are in a drought, according to the U.S. Drought Monitor. In Puerto Rico, the largest U.S. overseas territory, the government implemented water rationing throughout 26 percent of the island as drought yet again caused severe reservoir shortages.
Americans’ water bills, meanwhile, increased by an average of 80 percent over the past decade.