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From Here You Can Smell the Effluence

19 June 2011

For those of you along the Monongahela River, you may be thinking, “if only ALCOSAN would control their flow”. It is critical that ALCOSAN addresses their problems. The water in our region is critical to our survival. What I am talking about is something that doesn’t yet affect us, but certainly could if the unbridled enthusiasm of environmentalists manages to fully regulate what we commodes we put in our bathrooms.

Recently, and by recently I mean about three months ago, American City and County, a periodical for local officials, had an article regarding the problems facing San Francisco. In a point of full disclosure, I love SF, and since I no longer travel there, I’m glad I live in Pittsburgh with the various suburbs, neighborhoods and local art interest that makes the ‘Burgh as cool as SF.  But what’s happening in SF stinks.

You remember high performance low water usage toilets that have been pushed for years? San Francisco mandated the high flow 1.6 gallon tanks. The problem is that 1.6 gallon toilets even when they properly flush everything out of sight don’t put enough liquid into the overall system to keep material moving toward the treatment plant. In effect the entire SF sewage system is becoming a septic tank.

Solution? First of  all, reasonable people might have agreed years ago that individual choice to use 1.6 gallons or 5 gallons of water would suffice, but now it’s too late – the government has decreed which may used. And while you and I might think a some quantity of 10-ton truckloads of Ridix might be the solution, that’s not what was decided. Bleach will clean things out instead, or at least kill the smell initially. How is this beneficial to the environment?

I consider myself a conservationist – not an environmentalist; I think we do need to preserve the world for us and our descendants to seven generations but we must do it in cost effective, market driven ways. Fortunately for us all there are business people and engineers who understand there must be cost and utility parity for replacing things that work well. 5 gallon flushing works well, 1.6 gallon doesn’t.

Should we mandate grey water systems then? Well designed, cost effective, grey water systems can work if part of the original plan, not usually for retrofits. Mom’s German sensibility figured out a free, effective system while most of today’s environmentalists were in diapers. The term “grey water” hadn’t been coined. Mom owned four 5 gallon buckets. Low tech and cheaper, yes cheaper, than flushing, and had more force; 5 gallons whether from a tank or a bucket is still 5 gallons. Small tanks hold less liquid than 2 bottles of milk. 5 gallons holds enough paint for a room plus provides a seat after using the paint up. Think about that.

But this isn’t just a lesson about toilets. It’s about ideology over reason. We need smart regulations. Regulations that protect us and nature for the future but don’t create impediments to the innovation that comes due to markets.

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