No deposit, no return

NO MATTER WHERE you turn, theres an article or news report regarding our current drought. Were doing some pretty crazy things on this planet, not the least of which seems to be a population hell bent on ensuring a shortage of potable water in the near future. It doesnt take a rocket scientist to figure out we need to find new ways to conserve and protect our potable water resources. In many ways,

NO MATTER WHERE you turn, there’s an article or news report regarding our current drought. We’re doing some pretty crazy things on this planet, not the least of which seems to be a population hell bent on ensuring a shortage of potable water in the near future. It doesn’t take a rocket scientist to figure out we need to find new ways to conserve and protect our potable water resources.

In many ways, the current drought and reaction by the public remind me of the energy shortages from the 1970s. Remember how concerned we all were about low-mileage gas-guzzlers and the rush to purchase vehicles that could make it past the next gas station? Then came years of plentiful fuel, and what happened? We all bought big, stinking, fuel-guzzling mega-monster SUVs.

Once rainfall returns to normal and water use restrictions are removed, this current drought will become a distant memory too.

Several years ago, I was asked to serve on my township’s plumbing board. “Don’t worry, they never meet,” I was told. Well, that sounded like my kind of hard-working committee!

Then a few months ago, I got a call from Greg Henry, the plumbing inspector and chairman of this committee, asking if I would approve the use of waterless urinals in a large addition at the local Harley-Davidson motorcycle factory. After all the controversy over 1.6-gal. per flush water closets, I didn’t want to sign off on this idea before doing some research. What about odors or drain line clogs caused by sedimentation from the urine, I wondered? Somehow the idea of a fixture that doesn’t get washed down after use seemed likely to be unsanitary and potentially unsavory.

In Tucson, Ariz., there’s a dry riverbed running through the center of town! Oh, it used to flow 12 months out of every year back when just the Indians lived in the Sonoran Desert and used 20 gal. of water per person per day on average.

But then along came the rest of us, and instead of letting the local flora and fauna alone, we imported water-thirsty crops and turned every backyard into a grass-covered oasis! Tucson monthly water bills in summer rival those we pay for air conditioning back here in the hot, humid East. The townsfolk have pumped so much water from the aquifer; the center of Tucson is subsiding as it settles, squashing the life out of its aquifer.

No deposit, no return – once depleted and compressed, it’s gone forever. They’ve lowered the water table so drastically the river has disappeared!

So, what’s a continually expanding city to do? Draw water from the Colorado River, of course. Unfortunately, several other states have had the same idea and they have all based their use formulas on peak flows during ideal conditions, not those that occur during times of drought. The consensus is that they have just 50 years of water left if they continue to expand and place greater demands on available resources.

Not everyone has his or her head in the sand in Tucson, though, and during a visit to the Desert Museum, I came across a waterless urinal in the men’s room. The sign placed above it gave a brief explanation and noted the saving of some 70,000 gal. of water per year! There was no odor, no mineral buildup around the drain and the fixture surface completely drained itself into the chemical trap.

I also received this e-mail from John Morrill, energy manager for Arlington County, Va.

“We have one where I work (a local government office building), and user satisfaction is fine (as fine as user satisfaction could be with something like a urinal). Odor is nonexistent. You’ve probably read that the key to the waterless urinals is their EcoTrap, a self-contained, disposable vertical trap containing a blue oil solution that keeps urine, odor and sewer gas from escaping. Our custodians replace the EcoTrap every 6-8 weeks, per specs, without trouble and maintenance is a breeze. As a result of our field experiment, they are becoming the specified urinal of choice in our new buildings, especially those seeking ‘green’ credentials. It’s our way of helping the Chesapeake Bay (and the load on our water pollution plant).”

What also impressed me is the way the urinal’s design and surface finish make all the urine find the bottom and go through the trap. I haven’t noticed any lingering drops that could get smelly. The bowl is slightly wider than some urinals, so it offers a bigger target for those with, um, poor aim. The waterless urinal has been in for a little over a year, and is legit by our use.

You can learn more about the waterless urinal at www.waterless.com and, yes, I signed off on the request for the Harley factory.

Dave Yates owns F.W. Behler, a contracting company in York, Pa. He can be reached by phone at 717/843-4920 or by e-mail at [email protected]