All one has to do these days to realize the gravity of the water problem in some areas of the country is turn on the TV news. Farmers in the Central Valley of California, which produces a whole lot of the food the nation eats, may be denied water for irrigation this summer as persistent water shortages and onerous environmental regulations detour water elsewhere. That's pretty serious.

The fundamental problem is overpopulation, both of water-starved areas in the U.S. and globally in general. In time, nature will deal with that. But in the interim, a smart way to start dealing with water conservation is to look into the water closet.

Kohler Co. has launched a cause marketing program through a new Web site,, that features a brief interactive quiz and a charitable link with Habitat for Humanity to demonstrate how much water can be wasted by that most necessary fixture, the toilet. The quiz asks three simple questions: the number of people living in a home; the water volume used by toilets in the home; and the percentage of installed toilets in the USA that are inefficient old models—the answer to the last question is 50 percent. It then calculates how much water could be saved by installing a more efficient toilet and invites the consumer to fill out a short registration, which in turn will trigger a $1 contribution of water-saving products—up to $1 million total—to Habitat. The site also has tips on ways to save water and links to Kohler's water-saving line of products.

But that's not really what this column is about. In the course of checking out the Kohler marketing effort, I learned that many builders are still installing the 1.6 gallon toilets mandated by the feds way back in 1992 and that they have been slow on the uptake of other water saving technology. Now, I'm not one to advocate for rain-collection systems and cisterns and such, and I don't buy into the politics of the environmental movement—I confess to removing those water-restricting discs from every shower I've ever owned, I don't eat trail mix, and the only kind of hiking I've ever done is with a football— but if the technology exists, and it works, and it doesn't cost any more, than why not go ahead and use it to save water?

“I think the builders themselves are conscious of it,” said Shane Judd, senior product manager for water conservation for Kohler at its headquarters in Kohler, Wis. “I think it's the public that's lacking in understanding.

“Only a small slice of the builder population” is installing the latest technology, Judd said. But, he added, “Over the last several years, the interest level has really increased.”

The hook, then, is getting the home buyer to want the technology. Kohler's Performance gravity toilets use just 1.28 gallons; its Dual Flush toilets flush liquid wastes with only 0.8 gallons of water and solids with 1.6; its Pressure Lite toilets use between 1.0 and 1.4 gpf—plus, it's the most powerful flushing toilet available. Its Power Lite flushing technology employs an electronic pump and motor for an assisted 1.1 or 1.4 gallon flush. And they work; all are certified by the EPA's Water Sense program—similar to Energy Star. Kohler has not up-priced the water conservation technology; it costs the same, platform to platform, as the standard line.

Then there's the shower, where the standard flow rate is 2.5 gallons per minute. Kohler has a high-efficiency line of showerheads that cut that figure to 1.75 and provide the same coverage as a standard flow showerhead, combined with performance that still lets you dial down to get a power massage shower.

Builders can make headway with this technology, Judd said, by packaging it in with energy efficient features. Seems like a pretty sound idea, especially to anyone who wants to eat food from the Central Valley of California.