Metropolitan North Georgia Water Planning District
Replacing 100,000 old toilets with water-efficient models has saved 2.4 million gallons of water every day.

Metropolitan North Georgia Water Planning District on Tuesday, June 16th, 2015 in a press release

Agency says low-flow toilets saving millions of gallons of water daily

The trophies from the Metropolitan North Georgia Water Planning District celebrating its toilet rebate program. Source: Atlanta Regional Commission

Even if Georgia were, ahem, flush with water, the number would have looked impressive.

The Metropolitan North Georgia Water Planning District recently celebrated its rebate program that has helped homeowners replace 100,000 older model toilets with water efficient models across the 15-county metro Atlanta region.

The total savings: 2.4 million gallons of water every day.

"One of the beautiful things about changing out a toilet is you get a rebate, but you also permanently save on your water bill," said Katherine Zitsch, the water district’s director. "It’s not behavior based. You do what you normally do and you get those savings for as long as the toilet lasts."

And considering the water saved would fill the Georgia Aquarium 90 times a year – clearly nothing to poo poo – PolitiFact Georgia decided to dive in.

Going with the flow

Today’s toilet regulations date back to the 1992 Energy Policy Act, which required toilets to use 1.6 gallons of water per flush, versus the then-common 3.5-gallon models (and even older models that used as much as 8-gallons for every push of the handle).

Early savings didn’t materialize because manufacturers did little more than halve the water used in a flush. Irate homeowners in news stories from the mid-Clinton years griped about having to flush multiple times to get the job done.

"Plumbers were installing and changing out toilets and handing people plungers," said Ellen Whitaker, executive director of the Plumbing and Mechanical Association of Georgia. "It was as bad as it sounds. It just didn’t work. We don’t see those complaints anymore."

Technology wiped out those early problems. High-pressure gadgets, and even vacuum toilets with suction that rivals airplane lavatories, have made it possible for high-efficiency models to use just 1.28 gallons per flush.

That lower number qualifies commodes for the WaterSense designation. The privately verified seal, similar to Energy Star ratings for electrical appliances, confirms toilets, faucets and showerheads are the most water-efficient on the market.

Exchange of Thrones

The water planning district started its toilet rebate program in 2007, well into the era of high-tech toilets but also in the midst of back-to-back droughts in Georgia.

Local water utilities fund and run the program, rebating $100 on water bills when homeowners show they have replaced an older toilet with a water-efficient model. Most utilities will offer rebates for up to two toilets, though some will rebate three.

The planning district has kept track of the number of toilets – as well as whether the new models are the 1.28-gallon or 1.6-gallon model..

But the district has been conservative in estimating the water saved, counting only one toilet per household, even in situations where records show more than one throne was exchanged.

The district then multiplies the water saved per toilet by what its partner, the Atlanta Regional Commission, shows is the average household size in a community.

Using a small jurisdiction like Bartow County, which exchanged WaterSense toilets in 49 homes, the math looks like this:

Step 1: 3.5 gallon minus 1.28 gallon = 2.22 gallons per toilet.

Step 2: 2.22 gallons times 49 households = 108.78 gallons

Step 3:  108.78 gallons times 5 flushes = 543.9 gallons per day

Step 4: 2.71 average home size times 543.9 gallons = 1,474 gallons per day

Bartow also had one home that received a 1.6 gallon toilet. Using the same formula, that translates into 25 gallons a day.

The water district rounded up, showing 1,500 gallons per day of savings in Bartow.

Similar calculations were done across the region, to arrive at the 2.4 million gallons total, said Paul Donsky, spokesman for the ARC.

Cobb and DeKalb counties, which account for 15 percent and 20 percent of the totals exchanged, run their own programs and calculate the totals slightly differently.

DeKalb, for instance, assumes 10 flushes per day per toilet, not per person. That translates into more gallons but overall, fewer flushes.

The Environmental Protection Agency’s WaterSense calculator uses yet another similar but not quite exact formula for its estimates.

That calculator factors in 5.05 flushes per day, showing that a two-person home that switches to a WaterSense model, would save 8,200 gallons of water annually.

The water planning district’s math is more conservative. Using the formula, the district arrives an estimate of annual savings of 8,103 gallons.

"They are all estimates but show our effort to reduce water use," said Jennifer Colaizzi, the EPA’s WaterSense spokeswoman. "We want to encourage people to use water more efficiently."

To that end, the water district notes there has not been a slowdown in the number of people seeking and getting the toilet rebate. The program is expected to continue until most homes use the newer, water-sipping flushes.

Our ruling

The Metropolitan North Georgia Water Planning District recently touted that the region saves 2.4 million gallons of water every day, based on its toilet rebate that has replaced 100,000 commodes with more efficient models.

That’s enough to fill 1,363 Olympic-size swimming pools every year. But the district’s own math backs it up.

And a comparable federal calculator shows that the district is being conservative in estimating the region’s move toward water efficiency.

We rate the claim True.