On October 13, 2010, the New York City Council enacted a set of local laws that address the water efficiency of New York City buildings by amending the New York City Plumbing Code (the “Plumbing Code”). These laws codify several recommendations that were made by the NYC Green Codes Task Force (the “Task Force”) in its February 2010 report to Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg. The Task Force was convened by the Urban Green Council to recommend green changes to the laws and regulations affecting buildings in New York City. These new laws are consistent with the goal of the Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (“LEED”) program to reduce the amount of potable water used by buildings while still meeting the needs of the building’s systems and occupants.

Limiting Use of Potable Water for Machine Operations

Local Law 54 prohibits the use of potable water for once-through cooling systems. Section 202 of the Plumbing Code defines “potable water” as “[w]ater free from impurities present in amounts sufficient to cause disease or harmful physiological effects and conforming to the bacteriological and chemical quality requirements of the Public Health Service Drinking Water Standards or the regulations of the public health authority having jurisdiction.” Once-through cooling systems are typically used to cool ice making machines, walk-in coolers, refrigerated walk-in boxes, and air conditioning equipment. Once-through cooling systems that use potable water tend to be wasteful, as the water passes through the system only once before being disposed of as wastewater. The new law will take effect on January 1, 2011.

Ice-making machines that produce less than 500 pounds of ice per day are exempt from complying with Local Law 54. Also exempted are water-cooled ice making machines, walk-in coolers, refrigerated walk-in boxes or air conditioning equipment supplied with potable water through piping systems installed prior to January 1, 2011, and any subsequent replacements, so long as the replacement uses the same or lesser amount of potable water.

While the new law allows existing once-through cooling systems to remain in place, building owners may consider using the water that passes through to provide makeup water (water used to replace that which is lost by evaporation or leakage) for cooling tower equipment. Under the LEED standard for Existing Buildings: Operations and Maintenance rating system, the use of makeup water counts towards obtaining the Cooling Tower Water Management credit, which is worth one point towards LEED certification. LEED also addresses once-through cooling systems in other rating systems. In the LEED for Schools rating system, having refrigeration equipment that does not use once-through cooling with potable water is one of three factors that must be satisfied in order to obtain the Process Water Use Reduction credit, which is also worth one point towards LEED certification. In addition, the Water Efficiency prerequisite for the LEED for Retail: Commercial Interiors and LEED for Retail: New Construction rating systems prohibits the use of ice machines that use once-through cooling systems.

New Drinking Fountain Requirements

Local Law 55 requires mandatory drinking fountains to be equipped with both a bubbler faucet for drinking and a separate faucet designed for filling a water bottle. The new law also removes the provision of the Plumbing Code that allowed bottled water dispensers (i.e., vending machines) to account for up to 50% of the required drinking fountains. The Task Force had recommended this change in order to encourage the use of water fountains and reusable personal water bottles over bottled water and soda. The new law will take effect on July 1, 2012.

Alarms and Sub-Meters to Detect Leaks and/or Malfunctions

Local Law 56 requires alarms and sub-meters to be installed in facilities that are major water users in order to alert both the operator of the facility and the Department of Environmental Protection of a potential water leak or equipment malfunction. Facilities that will be affected include: roof tanks, boilers serving buildings with more than six stories, water distribution pipe lines serving commercial cooking facilities, commercial laundry facilities, commercial gyms and spas, and makeup water lines serving evaporative cooling towers or swimming pools. Swimming pools that are accessory to Group R-3 occupancies (generally one- and two-family dwellings) are exempted. The new law will take effect on January 1, 2011.

If a building already has meters in place to measure the total potable water use for the entire building, then installing meters in connection with this new law may allow a building to obtain additional credits under the LEED standard for Existing Buildings: Operations and Maintenance rating system. The LEED Water Performance Measurement credit provides an additional point if a meter is installed that measures water consumption for process-type end uses, including dishwashers, clothes washers and pools.

More Efficient Flush and Flow Rates

Local Law 57 increases the water efficiency standards for toilets, showerheads, and other plumbing fixtures. The new law lowers the maximum flow rate for private lavatory faucets, showerheads, urinals and toilets. Dual flush toilets, which provide users the option of choosing a flush rate for liquids or solids, can be used to satisfy the new water efficiency standard for toilets. The new law also makes it unlawful for any person to sell or offer for sale any plumbing fixture that does not comply with the specifications required by the Plumbing Code. The new law will take effect on July 1, 2012.

While consumers may not know how many gallons per flush or gallons per minute a plumbing fixture has, fixtures bearing the WaterSense program label will comply with the new standards. WaterSense is a program sponsored by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, and helps customers identify high-performance, water-efficient fixtures. Other fixtures that do not bear the WaterSense program label may be used, so long as they meet the Plumbing Code standards.

LEED uses the United States Energy Policy Act of 1992 (“EPAct 1992”), which established national plumbing fixture performance requirements, as a baseline for flush and flow rates. Click here to see a chart showing that Local Law 57’s standards are well below the baseline:

The Water Efficiency category in LEED has one prerequisite: potable water use of indoor plumbing fixtures and fittings must be reduced to a level equal to or below the water use baseline, depending on which LEED rating system is used. Additional points are awarded based on the total percentage reduction from the water use baseline. Looking at these four fixtures in isolation, a building’s private lavatory faucets, showerheads, urinals, and toilets that comply with this new law could average about 30% below the water use baseline used for LEED certification.