Thursday November 29, 2007

Quit wasting my water

australian toilet

Well, rainy season is drawing to a close, and suffice it to say that it wasn’t a washout. We’re fine for now, but our water levels are lower then we want them, and there’s trouble ahead. We can wait for panic to set in, and then start frantically talking about forbidding anyone else to move to Southeastern Florida (to recap: it’s a pointless idea because the problem is already severe, and it’s a useless idea because it will never happen). Or we can start talking about some real long-term solutions.

Luckily, we’re not inventing the wheel here. Other parts of the world experience much worse droughts, and have come up with clever ways to deal with the problem. Ladies and gentlemen, I give you the Australian toilet. A more efficient design, and with two flush buttons. How simple is this: you use a half-flush for pee, a full flush for Well-You-Know™. This alone saves a staggering amount of water (8,500 gallons per household per year (also, btw: no clogs)), but of course there’s a lot more: special shower heads, washing machines, dish washers, strict water restrictions, and yes, expensive water treatment plants (Hiaasen has this exactly right).

It’s all tied together with a progressive pricing system, where water gets more expensive the more you use of it. Use a modest amount, your water bill is low. Waste, and it spikes sharply. All the gadgets in the world don’t help unless the people using them are motivated to save water, right? A lot of this is cultural — once people are constantly reminded of all the ways water can be saved, it becomes the expected behavior, and social pressure brings in line those who, say, can afford to be wasteful. What we need is a cultural shift, but it needs to start with the legislature.

Let’s put the two-flusher into new homes. Let’s make water restrictions permanent, so nobody is ever in doubt about what’s in effect when. And let’s get some of that progressive water pricing going. Because more droughts are on the way, and the future may make this Summer look like a cakewalk. We need to get ready now.

Update: Think about the water you use in a typical day and you’ll realize that the overwhelming majority is for flushing your piss. You just don’t need 3.5 gallons for that. If you go 6 times per day, that’s over 10 gallons saved per person per day. There are 2,400,000 people in Miami Dade. Do the math, and you get something close to 8 billion gallons of water saved per year. Of course it’d take decades to get to universal deployment, but there’s no time like the present to start.

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  1. run on sentence man    Thu Nov 29, 09:59 AM #  

    How about stopping developers, city + county governments from sleeping in the same bed and put an end to overdevelopment strainging our natural water supplies?



  2. Adam    Thu Nov 29, 10:07 AM #  

    coming from california and it’s 10 year droughts. I can assure you that low-flush toilets are terrible.

    How about

    - no big dumb lawns

    - fix the retarded canal system.

    - no lakes with big foutains jetting water into the air.



  3. David    Thu Nov 29, 10:29 AM #  

    Elaborating on the other commenters comment on the canal system, South Florida has to be the only place in the country that feels it has sooo much water it needs to forcably pump out the majority of the fresh water that falls in the area out to sea. When the water levels in the canals get too high, how about pumping the excess into a reservoir for future use in a drought period rather than into the ocean (and dont even get me started on draining Lake Okeechobee in “anticipation of an active hurricane season” like they did last year)?



  4. Renter    Thu Nov 29, 10:45 AM #  

    the staggered pricing system works ok if you have control over the types of appliances you have where you live. However, if you rent, that choice may not be available. I rent. I pay my water bill. The dishwasher, washing machine, toilets, faucets (namely the things I can’t control) are all over 10-15 years old. I can’t demand my landlord replace these things. Maybe if I owned it would be different, but renters are stuck. I can try to conserve as much as possible, but with out of date appliances the steps I take only go so far.



  5. Steve    Thu Nov 29, 11:05 AM #  

    Adam (comment 2) has it right. Something like 2/3 of south Florida’s fresh water ends up sprinkling lawns. This is an unconscionable misappropriation of resources. Worse than the energy it takes to deep-freeze public buildings, malls, restaurants, etc. to the point where people need to carry sweaters around.



  6. nonee moose    Thu Nov 29, 12:01 PM #  

    Steve, with all due respect, the only thing Adam has right is the sentiment behind his statement, and maybe the “big dumb lawn” crack. I applaud it, but like most things from California, almost no basis in reality.

    The canal system in South Florida is what supports existing (and future) development in most of South Florida. We can debate the merits of future development and the burden it places on infrastructure. But focusing on what’s on the ground for the moment, those canals are the only thing that stands between your zero-lot cookie-cutter in West KendallBroward, and the erstwhile muddy bog it was built on. The canals drained the swamp. The canals also serve as the back-end of the storm sewer in these parts. Can water managers do a better job of estimating rainfall? Yes. Of timing their discharges to accomodate the runoff? Absolutely. But calling the canal system stupid is like calling a computer stupid. Or a rock.

    And those pretty fountains in the middle of the lake? Mere pumps re-circulating water that’s already there. No impact whatsoever.

    I do agree with Steve’s allusion to the need for a more robust reuse system for lawns and other green spaces. That has to become part of th eequation as we address how to meet/decrease future water demand.



  7. Run-On-Sentence Man    Thu Nov 29, 12:44 PM #  

    yay…I have an imposter! I’m just glad I agree with what my imposter is posting.



  8. alesh    Thu Nov 29, 12:45 PM #  

    My ‘rents old house had a separate well for sprinkler water. It didn’t use potable water for that. But I agree that lawn watering should be a hanging offense.

    Most of the other solutions suggested are also good. I have no conception of the canal systems or what possible improvements could be made, but we have the SFWMD, and I’d assume they’re doing anything that’s easily done, right?

    The Renter’s argument is worth keeping in mind, but not a true obstacle. EVERYONE will have increased expenses, whether it’s a water bill they have no control over, or the cost of upgrading appliances. The increased revenue would need to go to incentive programs.

    Ultimately, though, if your landlord doesn’t want to replace appliances that are causing undue expense, you move to a place that has them. Short term inconvenience in return for having water when you turn on the tap.



  9. warlaur    Thu Nov 29, 12:50 PM #  

    All these ideas are great, and insightful [except the one about city + county govn’ts not sleeping in the same bed… that’s never gunna end]… but I think the bigger issue is that too many people in Miami just don’t care about anything community related [example, low voter turn out]. Why should they change their water usage habits? Lake Oka-whatever is so far away anyway… there’s no way it could possibly affect them directly.

    How do we change that mindset? Here, in this blog, our ideas are great [I propose desalinization for the peninsula, but that would lead to far more debt and misappropriation], but we’re only 8 people so far… how do you get the members of the community in a city like Miami to wake up and realize this a serious problem worth more than name brand clothing and illegally imported recreational drugs?



  10. Adam    Thu Nov 29, 02:12 PM #  

    Yes I realize that the canals are the reason that the swamps (and soon, everglades) are dry. I call them stupid because we are not only wrecking the natural environment, but we are literally draining our fresh water in to the ocean while we complain about the drought. This is much like I would call a computer stupid if, instead of saving your files to disk it spit them out on punchcards. AND we are building “retarded sprawl” on top of the drained swamp/everglades. These canals were made decades ago to get rid of water, not to conserve it.

    and it’s not so much the fountains that I have a problem with (although they do speed evaporations), but the fact that housing developments need their own private lakes in the first place. If they were pulling their drinking water from their own reservoire it might make sense, but now it is just a tacky (stupid) waste.



  11. crumbs    Thu Nov 29, 03:55 PM #  

    “In this Land of Sun and Fun, We never flush for number one”



  12. Rick    Thu Nov 29, 06:08 PM #  

    Mentioned back in May on SotP…

    _In Miami-Dade, the fresh water that leaks from local pipes on a typical day is enough to fill 51 Olympic-size swimming pools, take nearly two million showers or flush a toilet more than nine million times.

    Last year, the county lost 12.4 billion gallons to leaks — nearly 10 percent of what it produced.

    […]

    In addition to the leaks, another 8.9 billion gallons was believed to be delivered to water customers but never billed. Water managers believe most was stolen or accidentally given away for free because of clerical errors or inaccurate water meters. Residential water meters are replaced every eight years, by which time they typically undermeasure by 6 percent.

    […]

    Consultants hired by the county believe the losses are probably worse. They reexamined the county’s 2005 data using a new method — one being developed by the water industry to standardize data among cities — and found that the apparent losses were 36 percent worse than the county reported. Leaks were also marginally worse, by the consultants’ calculations._

    If the county just plugged some leaks and kept better track of its water usage, everyone could keep their retarded big lawns and the dumb canal system could stay…or something like that.

    OT, but the only Australian things that are worthwhile are Foster’s and Quantas.

    .



  13. Rick    Thu Nov 29, 06:10 PM #  

    And, of course, the god forsaken text formatting fails one more friggin’ time here at CM. Please correct that, again, for me, Alesh.

    F!

    .



  14. animonstruo    Thu Nov 29, 06:20 PM #  

    “If it’s yellow, let it mellow. If it’s brown, flush it down.”



  15. tjl    Fri Nov 30, 08:59 AM #  

    I’m with animonstruo.. no need to flush the yellow.



  16. tjl    Fri Nov 30, 09:00 AM #  

    Except of course AT WORK! Trouble with work is, they already have Lo-Flo toilets, and it takes 2-3 flushes to get the paper off the bowl. What a Waste!



  17. alesh    Fri Nov 30, 09:32 AM #  

    This is the great thing about the australian toilets — lowflo when you want it, fullstrenght when you need it.

    Rick~ Good points on the waste. Sorry about your difficulties — I’ve added a “preview” button which should keep this from happening in the future.



  18. Adam    Fri Nov 30, 10:17 AM #  

    That sounds like it might be better than the full lowflo ones they had going a while back. Those things took three flushes, on occasion, to clear the smallest of deposits.



  19. Rick    Fri Nov 30, 11:20 AM #  

    Alesh: I use the preview button and it previews wrong, too. Do you see what I’m talking about? It still isn’t fixed. I tried to italicize a bunch of paragraphs.

    .



  20. alesh    Fri Nov 30, 11:35 AM #  

    Rick~ I’d like nothing more then to enable HTML comments. Alas, Textpattern doesn’t allow this for alleged “security reasons.”

    But if it looks wrong in the preview, then the trick is to try something else. I’ve told you before: you need to italicize every paragraph individually.

    What a drag.

    I know.

    It sucks to be you.



  21. Rick    Fri Nov 30, 06:54 PM #  

    Friggin’ hump.

    *********

    Mentioned back in May on SotP…

    In Miami-Dade, the fresh water that leaks from local pipes on a typical day is enough to fill 51 Olympic-size swimming pools, take nearly two million showers or flush a toilet more than nine million times.

    Last year, the county lost 12.4 billion gallons to leaks — nearly 10 percent of what it produced.

    […]

    In addition to the leaks, another 8.9 billion gallons was believed to be delivered to water customers but never billed. Water managers believe most was stolen or accidentally given away for free because of clerical errors or inaccurate water meters. Residential water meters are replaced every eight years, by which time they typically undermeasure by 6 percent.

    […]

    Consultants hired by the county believe the losses are probably worse. They reexamined the county’s 2005 data using a new method — one being developed by the water industry to standardize data among cities — and found that the apparent losses were 36 percent worse than the county reported. Leaks were also marginally worse, by the consultants’ calculations.

    If the county just plugged some leaks and kept better track of its water usage, everyone could keep their retarded big lawns and the dumb canal system could stay…or something like that.

    OT, but the only Australian things that are worthwhile are Foster’s and Quantas.

    *********

    Great research, btw, Alesh. Maybe later in the dry season you can brief us on we can save even more water by discontinuing the use of ice cubes.

    .



  22. alesh    Fri Nov 30, 08:55 PM #  

    Rick~ I’m not sure. Maybe by sticking your gin in the freezer.

    Again, sorry you had difficulty properly indicating that you were “quoting yourself,” not actually speaking. Or something.



  23. Adam    Sat Dec 1, 11:30 AM #  

    Lawns are the Hummers of horticulture.



  24. Blingtown    Tue Dec 4, 04:28 PM #  

    According to the county, landscape uses about 1/2 of the potable water in the county. Absurd! If we went native with landscape, it would look better and use about 1/4 of the water. There is also no need for this to be potable water.

    As for the big picture regarding development…
    I don’t know if you all followed the recent story re: the water management districts long term plan that was recently submitted to the state, but it was big news. If the plan had been rejected, the state water managers were prepared to reject ALL new development permits. The county responded with some fairly innovative steps. Treated water will be used to flush toilets, water lawns and restock the aquifer as new treatment facilities come on-line.

    Lets not forget the obvious oxymoron that we have a drought in an area with 60” of rain annually! Even as the state suffered drought, we got our 58”. We could be storing this in cisterns for toilets and irrigation instead of dumping it into canals.

    We still have lots of options to explore for water savings.