Thursday November 29, 2007
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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