Monday, August 18, 2008

Get serious about your throne

I'm going to resist making a terrible, toilet related pun and just mention that today's State Journal has an article detailing a proposal that Madison's water utility is making that would, in theory, help to cut water consumption:

The city's Water Utility is recommending a rebate plan to encourage residents to buy high-efficiency toilets, which could save about 2.3 million gallons of water daily, the output of one well.

The rebate plan, which would offer $100 per dwelling unit — a third of the cost of installing a high-efficiency toilet — is the centerpiece of the utility's goal of cutting residential water use by 20 percent by 2020.

The utility would provide $250,000 for rebates annually, enough for 2,500 toilet replacements each year.

If all homes switched toilets, the water savings would represent two-thirds of the utility's conservation goal.

In general, this sounds like a good plan. The only caveat is that this pitch (which is part of a more detailed, multi-pronged proposal) comes with an 18% rate hike. Certainly, that's going to make some residents balk, and understandably so. But here's the thing: if we were to each cut our water consumption from our current average of 73 gallons a day (good Lord!) down to 58 gallons a day, it might well completely negate any rate increase. It's paying more for less, but when it comes to what is arguably our most precious natural resource, I think it'd be worth it.

We in the United States have been incredibly lucky to have such easy, cheap access to abundant clean water. That's not true of many places in the world, and clean water is becoming more and more difficult to come by all over the planet. We would do well to cut our consumption which, at 73 gallons a day, is way over what we all really need.

Still, I'd be curious to know if the $100 rebates will be coming out of the Water Utility's own pockets, or what. Also, I'd be very curious to know if these rebates will be made available to the landlords of the various apartment buildings around town. I rent, but I'd love to have a low-flow toilet in my apartment. I can't really do that right now unless I own the place. I imagine that renters use a lot of water, too, so offering these rebates to landlords would be a good move and good incentive.

I also admit that the last I'd heard of low-flow toilets, they weren't always terribly reliable in the fully-flushing, not-clogging department. Happily, however, the newer generation of low-flows seems to have fully addressed all of the old problems, and there are several models available now that work even better than the old, water hogging kinds. Plumber Terry Love provides comprehensive, field tested reviews of many low-flow models for your perusal here.

Conservation is one of the key elements to creating and maintaining a more sustainable, healthy environment in which we can all live--right on down to our grandchildren and their children and so forth. It's important to take some personal responsibility for this effort, but equally so that we all work to make it as affordable as possible to do so.


Steve said...

i think the problems with water and electricity conservation start with... we dont have a good way to measure what we use. How many gallons am I using washing dishes? showering? flushing? watering xyz? I want a real time gauge easily accessible, with warnings/alerts on over usage. Same with electricity. Once you have that, you can start saving data, reporting on it, cutting back on things that really are doing the worst damage. Until we have things like this, cheap and easy, its just not going to happen for the majority of people. I know such things are out there or coming out soon for electricity (, and I saw a girl get a 10,000 dollar grant for her idea on the shower saver (, to show how much is being used. These things should be commonplace, built into new homes, and cheap and readily avail for every one else, and then there are no excuses :)

Emily said...

Agreed, so I was glad to see the idea at least mentioned in the proposal. Also, you can get an energy meter for free from our local libraries...but yes, having these sorts of gauges in home already would be a great boon.

Steve said...

do you have a link on any info for the free energy meters?

John A said...

FYI on the low flow toilets: We've got them throughout our house, and they're much nicer than the horrible low flows that earned the concept a bad reputation. Rarely stop up, rarely need a second flush.

Coupled with my "if it's yellow let it mellow" attitude, we get a lot of savings on water through the toilets. A bunch of which goes towards keeping our lawn alive, but we don't talk about that... I'd love to get a good rain barrel, but like every decent energy saver, it's got a high upfront cost. Still, our family of four hovers at 43.5 gal per person per day, which is making me happy. (That's a bit of cheating, since two of those people are kids. But it's at 58 gal per person per day if I treat them as half people for the calculation.) That gets better in winter since you don't need to shower every day. ;)

Emily said...

Steve - MG&E provides them to local libraries, check it out!

John - Too much information! ;) Good on ya, though, and good to hear more in-the-field reviews of the low-flows.

Palmer said...

Just because you rent, doesn't mean you can't conserve. Start by filling up a gallon jug and putting it in the toilet tank. You've just started flushing using 1 less gallon of water. See if you can add more to reduce the amount used in flushing.

Emily said...

Palmer - Hey, believe me, I do whatever I can to conserve even though I rent. Hadn't heard about this "gallon jug in the tank" thing, though. How does that work, exactly?

Steve said...

1 less gallon in the tank, one less used. since it stops filling once it hits the point where it thinks it has reached the "full" line, that is, if you can get a gallon jug in your tank. I have heard bricks used as well..

jen x said...

I knew getting that library card at age 8 would pay off some day :-) Thanks for the info re: the energy meters!

michael d said...

The energy meters are cool and easy to use -- I even wrote an article about it -- but most people won't bother using something like that. Same for water and plenty of other things.

I've seen some newer cars that constantly tell you the MPG you're getting the way you're driving now. I think something like that is great because it puts it right in the driver's face if he or she is driving in a way that uses a lot of gas.

I think the shower device steve mentioned is great, since the shower is a single point (unlike electrical outlets) where you lose a whole lot of water.

The Lost Albatross