A cornerstone of Madison’s water conservation initiative reaches a major milestone – one flush at a time

Gloria Le May poses with WaterSense toilet


There’s nothing all that exciting about a toilet. But 17,126 toilets? That’s another story.

In 2009, Madison Water Utility began offering customers $100 rebates to replace old, water-wasting toilets with EPA-rated high efficiency models. Since then, thousands of Madison home and business owners have taken advantage of the Toilet Rebate Program, replacing more than 17,000 old toilets and saving an estimated 1,088,847,183 gallons of water.

“That is a big number,” says Madison Water Utility customer service supervisor Marie Van Aartsen, who oversees the program. “We’re excited to save such a large amount of such a precious resource. It stays in our aquifer for future generations.”

Van Aartsen says old toilets are notorious water wasters. That vintage 1950s pink toilet sitting in the downstairs half bath? It likely uses 5 gallons of treated drinking water with every flush.

“That was just the norm. You really didn’t think about it,” Van Artsen says. “But we want people to think about it. The Toilet Rebate Program has a dual function – besides saving water, it’s also a way for us to get the conservation message out.”

And it’s not just homeowners the utility is trying to reach. Old water-wasting toilets can be seen in businesses, restaurants and bars across Madison. That’s why Madison Water Utility recently expanded its rebate program to include all buildings – from schools to apartments to restaurants and shopping centers. The Toilet Rebate Program’s $100 bill credits are first-come, first-served until funding is exhausted. Non-residential customers can apply for up to twenty $100 bill credits per address.

“If you haven’t replaced a toilet, definitely look at our program,” says Van Aartsen, noting that it has saved participants $5.7 million in water and sewer costs over the last decade. But she points out that replacing old toilets is about more than conserving water.

“It’s not just the water, but the energy it takes to get the water out of the ground and pumped out to all the homes and businesses in our community. It’s a second resource that we’re also saving,” she says.

The program has saved 2.2 million kilowatt hours of electricity so far, equivalent to the amount of electricity needed to power 276 Madison homes for a year.

Madison Water Utility customers can find more information about the program here.

Inside an old toilet tank
Old toilets can use up to 5 gallons of water per flush.

Partnership with Project Home making an impact

“It looks so nice. It really does!” remarks 72 year-old Gloria LeMay, as a plumber finishes installing her new WaterSense toilet.

But for LeMay, the new toilet is just part of a whole two days of excitement. Local non-profit Project Home is replacing her toilet, fixing a tub faucet leak, installing new windows and repairing a broken ceiling fan in her condo.

“It’s so it’s wonderful. I’m getting things fixed!”

The leak repair and high-efficiency toilet come courtesy of a new partnership between Project Home and Madison Water Utility, aimed at helping low-to-moderate income residents improve water efficiency in their homes. It’s the first program of its kind in the state.

“When you’re talking about fixing plumbing leaks and replacing toilets, which are big water users, those are areas where you can make a real impact,” says Jason Hafeman, outreach manager for Project Home. “Everyone has those situations in their home. It’s a matter of being able to take care of that for them and bring down their water usage.”

LeMay bought her small condo when she retired ten years ago. But it wasn’t long before small home repairs, like the leaky tub, started piling up.

“I knew over time, it was wasting water. I tried to fix it myself, and forget that!” she laughs. “And my son said, ‘Mom, I can’t fix that. I don’t know what to do.’ When you’re retired, and you don’t have a lot of money, a lot of times you don’t know where to call.”

In its first year, Madison Water Utility’s partnership with Project Home assisted more than 85 low-to-moderate income community members with home projects and repairs focused on saving water, including the installation of 39 high-efficiency WaterSense toilets.

“Water conservation is part of energy conservation too. Water bills, energy bills, those are things we all have. If we can bring down the ratio of income going to those bills, for that person, it makes a huge difference,” Hafeman says.

The Home Water Efficiency program has been renewed for 2019. Madison residents can call Project Home at (608) 246-3737 to see if they qualify for the program.

This content is free for use with credit to the City of Madison - Madison Water Utility and a link back to the original post.