A Tank of Trouble


A large reservoir of ill-will has built up in response to a 1992 federal mandate that decreased the maximum water-holding capacity of new household toilets from 3.5 gallons to a mere 1.6. The problem: Completing the task often takes 3 gallons or more.

"Let's get the government out of our bathrooms," says Rep. Joe Knollenberg (R-Mich.), who is sponsoring a bill to flush the federal mandate. Soon after the 1992 law passed, Knollenberg says his constituents started complaining that their new toilets weren't up to the job. He got a sense of the problem's scope when a plumber told him of a developing black market in contraband commodes. After it was featured on a couple of radio talk shows, the issue burgeoned.

Just ask humorist Dave Barry. After devoting a column to low-flow toilets in July 1997, he was deluged with letters, "some far more detailed than I would have liked," he wrote in a follow-up piece. He also got a call from a contractors' association eager to demonstrate the efficiency of a brand new 1.6 gallon model. Barry purchased the toilet and couldn't be happier. "If there's [something it] can't handle in one flush, I have not personal knowledge of it," he wrote.

So has the columnist been bought off? "They ought to repeal their dumb-ass law," he says. "The federal government should have nothing to do with toilet sizes. Nothing. Zero. Ever."