Well, hang on. According to a 2003 Minnesota study, only 1.9 percent of the phosphorus in that state came from dishwashing detergent. And even The New York Times acknowledges that fertilizer and manure are the big culprits, with dishwashing soap contributing only "a fraction" of phosphates in the water.
Besides, removing phosphorus has other environmental consequences. People may run their dishwashers twice (guilty), causing more greenhouse gases to be created, or they may hand-wash their dishes using more hot water than machines do (there are studies that show that hand-washers tend to run the hot water too long -- really).
This stealth attack on our dishes happened with little public debate. If there really is a serious problem with phosphates in our rivers and streams (and from my quick inquiries, it seems to vary considerably around the nation), then voters should be offered alternatives. We can reduce our use of lawn fertilizers, for example. I'd prefer a yellow lawn to grimy dishes if it came to that.
But I need to be convinced. Remember those compact fluorescent light bulbs that were supposed to save billions of kilowatts of energy? California was an early adopter and is spending $548 million over seven years to subsidize the sale of the bulbs (the rest of us will see incandescent bulbs disappear from shelves by 2014). But now it seems the CFL bulbs don't last 9.4 years -- more like 6.3. They don't work well when they're cold. They're very expensive. They cast a garish light. And if they break, you have to don a Hazmat suit to dispose of them. Meanwhile, LED lights are coming on fast, making the whole CFL thing seem as fresh as pet rocks.
In other words, environmentalists may not know what they're talking about. In any case, something as intimate and critical as the cleanliness of our dishes ought not to be decided through stealth or back-room deals. Arise! A cascade of complaints -- to the companies and to governments -- is our best hope.