Don't flush your money down the toilet

DOWNEY - This is the fourth installment in our current series on water conservation in the city of Downey. The city has recently made available an informative brochure designed to help citizens moderate their water use, and we are continuing to address these water-saving ideas as structured in the city's brochure. Indoors, our first stop will be in the bathroom.So let's get down and personal, and talk about toilets. Current California law phases in a 1.28 gallon-per-flush maximum for new toilets sold by 2014. Federal EPA WaterSense specifications echo this criterion. The previous standard was 1.6 gallons per flush, set nationally in 1994, and before that, older toilets from the 80's and earlier typically used 3.5 gallons per flush or more. If you'll forgive this author for casting these figures in global perspective, in countries worldwide where potable running water is not available, women and girls - because men in such cultures don't do this type of work - hike miles every day to bring home a few gallons of unpurified water of not much more quantity than the 3.5 gallons of drinking water you just flushed down your 20-year-old toilet. So count your blessings. Returning to the issue at hand, it's worthwhile to take advantage of any opportunity available to bring the water consumption of your toilet more in line with current standards. In addition to single flush capacities of 1.28 gallons, another new toilet technology has been the advent of dual flush toilets, where a liquid-only option reduces water flow to significantly less than a gallon. Dual flush toilets are the law in Australia, where climate change has permanently diminished the national water supply. In fact, an American traveling through Australian airports and public places will need to learn which side of the flush mechanism to push. (Another option for businesses is the waterless urinal.) This writer recently replaced an old toilet and selected a 1.28 gallon-per-flush Toto with an impressively efficient bowl and evacuation design. By the way, American Standard, Toto and Kohler toilets are all American-made. Obviously it may not be immediately cost-effective to run out and replace all your toilets with the newest water-saving technology. But as with all conservation opportunities, there are big and little - meaning simple and inexpensive - choices. In fact, the old folk remedy of putting a brick in the tank has validity - at least in principle. The brick itself can break down and add debris to the plumbing and to the sewer line, but you can fill a plastic bottle with water or pebbles and displace some of the water that might otherwise go down the toilet drain. Just make sure it doesn't interfere with the flushing mechanism. Furthermore, in cases of limited personal income and with multiple family residences, subsidies and rebates are widely available. In fact, just a week ago Tuesday, the Central Basin Municipal Water District, of which the city of Downey is a member, gave a presentation at the Downey Chamber of Commerce Rise 'n' Shine Networking breakfast (every second Tuesday at Bob's Big Boy) at which such rebates were mentioned. CBMWD is a regional water agency under the jurisdiction of the Metropolitan Water District, and you can get information on rebates, as well as on many other water conservation alternatives, at Also, not to be overlooked in this perspective on water conservation and your toilet, is the potential for leaks, which, according to the city of Downey brochure, can waste 100 gallons of water a day. As the pamphlet explains, "check your toilet for leaks by putting a few drops of food coloring in the tank. After 30 minutes (without flushing) check to see if any color shows up in the bowl." Finally, if your family lifestyle and your sense of hygiene permit, "if it's yellow, let it mellow." More next week on how to save water inside your house. Lars Clutterham is the co-founder of downeygreen, a local non-profit organization advocating sustainability.

********** Published: January 19, 2012 - Volume 10 - Issue 40