Looking for a story with timely consumer appeal, audio/video fun, a climate change connection, and the opportunity to unleash your inner punster? Check out high-efficiency toilets (HETs), also known as "low-flow" or "dual-flush" toilets.
First things first. Here are some puns from current coverage of this topic: "Thinking outside the bowl," "Unbelievable things are happening in toilets and that's not crap," and "a funny thing happened on the way to new loo." And those are all from a single Oct. 13, 2007, Toronto Starstory.  Just imagine this topic's pun potential.
Long praised for their water-saving ability but criticized for high cost and lack of availability, HETs are now not only more widely available, but increasingly required in the US and Canada. Existing toilets average 1.6 gallons per flush. HETs only use 1.28 gallons per flush max. High-efficiency urinals use one-half gallon per flush max.
Because HETs are a water story, they're also an energy story. Water treatment and delivery, and wastewater processing, are major energy consumers in almost every city. However, water conservation tends to be overlooked as an energy conservation measure. If energy conservation and climate change are hot local issues in your region, HETs might be an obvious way to dip your toes into the "watergy" connection.
- For more on "watergy," request a media copy of the special water/energy edition  of Home Energy magazine: 510-524-5405, email. 
TIMELY HET HOOKS
The biggest HET news is that on Oct. 15, 2007, CA Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger signed the "California Toilet Efficiency Law" (AB 715) into law. This requires that as of Jan 1, 2014, all toilets sold or installed in the state shall use 1.6 gallons per flush max. (1 gallon/flush max. for urinals). To address availability, the law also requires companies selling toilets and urinals in CA to offer qualifying models to consumers: 50% of their models by January 1, 2010; 67% by January 1, 2011; 75% by January 1, 2012; 85% by January 1, 2013; and 100% by January 1, 2014.
- Legislation, full text.  Sponsored by CA Assemblyman John Laird (D-Santa Cruz). Release.  Press: Bill Maxfield, 831- 596-0910.
- The CA law was reportedly crafted with significant input from lobbyists from the Plumbing Manufacturers Institute. PMI press: Barbara C. Higgens, 847-481-5500.
- Plumbing & Mechanical magazine. 
- Contractor Magazine. 
What difference could this make at the household level? WREX (NBC affiliate, Rockford, IL) reported:  "A family would save a minimum of 5,000 gallons of water a year if they were coming from another new home into this one today. If they were coming from a home built before 1978, they would be looking at 20,000 gallons of water a year in savings."
Not everyone is happy with the CA law, however. Before the bill became law, a Contractor Magazine article  reported "The idea was panned by the board of directors of Plumbing-Heating-Cooling Contractors-National Association. Still feeling burned by the awkward introduction of 1.6gpf toilets in the early '90s, the PHCC-NA board sees the introduction of high-efficiency toilets as something for which contractors will get the blame if they don't work properly." Also, PHCC-NA expressed concern that HETs "will not put out enough water to create proper flow through old sewer mainlines and through sewage treatment plants." PHCC-NA press: Charlotte Perham,  800-533-7694.
Given CA's significant market power in all things consumer-related, it's likely that the market changes wrought by this legislation will have national impacts on HET availability, and perhaps cost.
At the national level, the US EPA's WaterSense program promotes HETs.  WaterSense retailer partners  have committed to offering HETs in their stores. Toilet and urinal models that qualify  under this program. EPA's specification for WaterSense toilets.  WaterSense HET FAQ.  EPA press:Enesta Jones,  202-564-4355.
California is not the only state with a current HET hook. Water-wasting practices common in Atlanta are receiving considerable scrutiny as culprits in GA's current crushing drought. In response (among other measures), on Oct. 29, 2007, Cobb County (GA) officials approved a $50-100 rebate for people who replace their old toilets with HETs.
- Rebate details.  County press: 770-419-6295, email.  The Atlanta Water Shortage blog  offers lots of current hooks to HET and toilet-related issues in GA.
On Oct. 26, the Plumbing-Heating-Cooling Contractors Association revised its water conservation position paper to request field testing and consideration of the impacts on water/sewer infrastructure when high efficiency toilets (HETs) are mandated. The paper emphasized the need for decision-makers to consider other means of conserving water, such as wastewater recycling systems (greywater), and called for legislators to consider tax and other incentives designed to encourage purchase of water conserving products and services. Both PHCC and PMIsupport a national toilet standard. 
LOCAL HET ANGLES
While CA is the first state to require HETs, several cities have had their own requirements for years, including Las Vegas, Los Angeles, Seattle, and Denver. Some parts of Canada (including Ontario and Vancouver) have required HETs for years. Even more cities, such as Austin, back consumer incentives to purchase and install HETs. Check whether your city has an HET requirement, or offers incentives or rebates for their purchase.
OTHER INFO & RESOURCES
HET price estimates vary from $200-1000, with $300-350 cited as the most common average. Standard toilets range in price from $100-$1000. Of course, the lowest-cost way to save water in your toilet is to put a brick or two in the tank.
- Bob Vila's guide to HETs. 
- The hospitality industry offers a big opportunity for HET installation, with strong business motive (operational cost savings and green PR) to do large-scale retrofits. Plus, the industry's ability to buy HETs in bulk could drive costs down. But will hotel guests be happy to "go with the (low) flow?" Eco consultant for hospitality industry: Kit Cassingham.  Recent project  at the Hilton hotel, Long Beach, CA.
- San Francisco Chronicle "Sweat Equity" columns on HETs: "Readers Flush Out the Truth About Toilets"  and "Dual Flush Can Save Water". 
- Great Lakes Radio Consortium  (includes great sound effects).
- Popular Science "eco-throne" story. 
Canadian research on HETs.  "In terms of appearance, clearing solids, and clearing liquids, more than 85% of the dual-flush surveys obtained average ratings of either "good" or "satisfactory", and 66% of the respondents said they would definitely recommend dual-flush toilets to