The Vine

A Watery-blue Stimulus Idea

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As Brad noted
yesterday, Obama seems to be listening to the growing chorus of people
calling on him to green the economic-stimulus bill. His big speech
yesterday contained proposals for improving energy efficiency and increasing renewable-energy generation. But why stop at using the stimulus to tackle energy problems?
There are a number of ways to
spend money to improve water efficiency in America's homes and offices, with many projects perfectly "shovel-ready" (or, more accurately, plumber ready). The number of people in the nation's dry regions continues to rise, and the amount of water available to these regions will likely fall due to global warming, which means that putting money into water efficiency could be a wise long-term
investment.

Water projects have a history of serving as economic
stimulus that goes back to the Depression, when big dam projects helped put
people to work establishing electric and irrigation infrastructure that's still
around today, for better or worse. The era of big dam building is over, but the
federal government could start investing in water-recycling plants, as Bay-area
Congressman George Miller suggested in a column
yesterday.

Immediate stimulus could also come via rebates
to homeowners who install water-saving appliances and bathroom fixtures.
According to a report from the Pacific
Institute, the average low-flow toilet (the kind that uses just 1.6 gallons per flush
and is standard in new construction) costs about $180. Replacing old toilets
(which use about six gallons per flush) could save a
whole lot of water, given that more than one-quarter of the average household's
water use goes toward flushing toilets. Switching to low-flow showerheads would be even cheaper (about $25 per shower) and could save roughly 4,000 gallons per person
per year, along with conserving the energy that would have gone to heating all that hot water.
Upgrading to water-saving dishwashers and washing machines woudl cost even more,
but may still make sense in areas with serious water shortages.

A
program of incentives for switching toilets and showerheads could put money in
the pockets of America's homeowners, hardware stores, and contractors. If that's
not Main Street, then what is? And that's why, as they're gearing up for various
stimulus-package fights, lawmakers really should agree that it's time to bail
out the plumbers.

--Rob Inglis

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