Water on the Rocks a Bad Mix at EPA

At last – a government agency story that doesn’t include radiation, radon, falling slabs, silicosis or any other hazard where someone in Washington thinks they have the best answer. In some ways, though, it’s worse: Water features using natural stone are naughty.
According to the Environmental Protection Agency, it’s more than just stone. It’s anything that involves a decorative use of water outdoors, all in the name of sustainable development.

The EPA’s proposed WaterSense® Program for new single-family homes and townhouses (of three stories or less) doesn’t have any patience with “ornamental water features,” and that includes small splashing streams as well as large cantera fountains.

In fact, according to a support statement, the list of nixed aquatic features includes, “fountains, ponds, waterfalls, man-made streams and other decorative water-related constructions provided solely for aesthetic or beautification purposes.

“Because these water features serve no functional or practical purpose,” the support statement continues, “their water use is not considered efficient.”

If that isn’t sufficiently full-steam Soviet-style agitprop in tone – strangely reminiscent of this – consider that pools and spas get no slack, either. The WaterSense regs equate the surface area of these people-oriented facilities to that of a grassy lawn, and only 40 percent of a home’s landscape can be “turfed.”

The WaterSense rules, all with the aim of encouraging the efficient use of residential water, also include indoor regulations in terms of fixtures, including the types of appliances used. The proposed program cites research on how much water can be saved with niceties like front-loading washers.

And there are studies about what happens when you get rid of those water-wasting outdoor features, right?

Uhh … well, when it comes to pools, just swap them out for “turf” in any of the program’s studies, and you can see that reducing the lawn area from, say, 80 percent to 40 percent would reduce water usage by 25 percent. This would work just the same for a home’s pool, as long as it’s a large moat used for training swimmers competing at the 2012 London Games.

And all those other features, including the ones with natural stone? It turns out that there’s no supporting bit of data on how much water you’d save by not having them. The EPA isn’t going to try to figure it out, either, citing “the variability of associated with outdoor water usage across the country.”

Of course, the time for comment on these rules passed earlier this summer, so it’s only a matter of time before backyard stone waterfalls join 1959 DeSotos among the ranks of the truly wasteful. Luckily, compliance with WaterSense will be strictly voluntary.

For now.

Emerson Schwartzkopf

You can read up-to-the-minute news on the dimensional-stone trade and search the archives at www.stonebusiness.net, where you can also find this blog at the Main Menu under the clever title of “Editor’s Blog.”

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