Sunday, May 31, 2009

We Don't Doo It That Way--We're Americans

Cameron says...

San Diego County—the county in which I live—is now in mandatory water conservation mode. The usual rules of allowing lawn watering only three days a week between 6 pm and 10 am and using buckets to wash cars and all that jazz are in effect. I think if the county really wanted to be fair and consistent, it should only place restrictions on the number of units of water consumed after taking into effect the property’s lot size and number of bedrooms. People like me who take a Navy shower two to five times a week and recycle graywater from the washing machine to irrigate my lawn and garden are already using far less water than the guy who is “being really conscientious” and watering his lawn only twice a week but still takes 20-minute showers and leaves the water running while he shaves, brushes his teeth, and does the dishes. I’m just glad I don’t care to have a Petco Park lawn. I just need cut grass for compost, and three days a week is fine for that.

I got mad at my son Corey today and made him bathe out of a bucket in the shower. We have instituted the Navy shower rule to conserve water before the city ever told us to do so, and Corey just doesn’t seem to get it. I mean, how could it take two whole minutes just to wet down your body and the rag? So after fighting this battle with him since I’ve known him, I decided he gets a bucket and a fill line and a rinse cup and ten minutes. It’s always been a battle to get him in and out of the shower in a timely manner on school nights when both parents work, but more recently I have taken more of a water conservation approach. Hence the Navy shower rule, and hence my displeasure at a child just standing around doing nothing in the shower for two minutes and not even getting his hair wet. I have some friends who live just a few minutes north of the Arizona border in the red rocky desert, where all of the Roadrunner and Wile E. Coyote cartoons were filmed. The last time I visited there, I witnessed one member of the family take a 45-minute shower. After asking the head of the household why he allowed this person to take such long showers, he replied that he’s been trying to get him to take shorter showers for years and has given up. While I am very fond of the people in this story, I’m very frustrated to see this attitude in every day American life. This is exactly the kind of situation I want to avoid Corey getting into when he becomes a teenager. I don’t want to pay for water, water heat, and lost family time as my kids take 45-minute showers. Bathing is just not a recreational activity. In my house, 60 seconds in the shower means 2.5 gallons of water. A 45-minute shower would use 112 gallons of water. One 112-gallon shower per day for a month would be 3375 gallons of water. That’s 40,500 gallons of water for ONE person for a year. While the monetary cost of that water is not terribly high, (In my city, the water only for a daily 45-minute shower would cost $10.55 a month.) this behavior is a terrible waste of natural resources and an arrogant affront to those citizens of the world who drink, bathe in, and irrigate their crops with water downstream of a dairy farm or chemical plant. I watched in Iraq as a contractor came on base with the “SST”—as it was so affectionately named—and Sucked all the S out of the dozens of portable toilets all over the base, then proceeded directly to the bank of the Euphrates river and pumped all the S into the river. Part of me wonders why the government couldn’t see that we should have just installed the toilets directly on the river instead of paying someone to drive their big T on base to move S from one undesirable location to another. But that’s another story. The point is that the water situation all over the world is horrendous. But instead of using only what we need and helping our fellow man, we consider what a higher standard of living we could be enjoying. We consider how more materials surrounding us mean more comfort or more success. Perhaps we are so deluded as to believe that money equals materials equals success equals happiness.

In 2007 the population of the city of San Diego was 1,266,731 people. Assuming that the average toilet uses 1.6 gallons per flush, and assuming that each resident of the city flushed only once per day, the average daily water use for sewage alone would be 2,026,769.6 gallons. That’s 60.8 million gallons per month, or over 729.6 million gallons per year. So San Diegans, all of whom are using ultra low-flow toilets and only use the toilet once per day, are using enough water to fill the 6.75-million-gallon Lincoln Memorial 108 times every year.

San Diego is the 8th largest city in the United States. Imagine if eight cities the size of San Diego adopted the practice of composting humanure. We could all stop flushing our toilets, and the resulting 5.8 billion gallons (using a more realistic estimate of two gallons per flush and two flushes per day, the number jumps to a staggering 14.8 billion gallons or 2191 Reflection Ponds—that much water could fill an area the length and width of 4.18 football fields and the height of a 126-story building.) of water could go to the war-torn villages in Africa where women risk getting raped or shot on the 2-mile walk to the well every day. We could start fish hatcheries. I’ve been to the Reflecting Pond at the Lincoln Memorial, and I’ve seen some prize-winning goldfish swimming around in there. We could help people become agriculturally strong in order to gain survival independence from warlords, drug dealers, and terrorists. We could use that water to teach a lot of people to fish, make some good friends, and make this world a better place to live. We could also use the resulting compost from the 9.6 million people who participate in this plan to fertilize our growing fields rather than using chemical fertilizers and insecticides.

On the other hand—flushing my toilet is kinda nice.

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