Water Woes, and Simple Solutions

An umbrella group of neighborhood associations in my city has its regular monthly meeting this evening. On “tap” for tonight’s meeting, someone from the city utilities department will be fielding questions about a proposed new water treatment program that has become (un)popularly known as “toilet to tap.”

I’ve lived in many places, and in most or not all of those places, water from toilets goes to the same place as all other water; gets treated at a treatment plant and sent back out as “fresh water.” It’s been going on for a long time; it’s disgusting and needless; but I guess I had become resigned to it.

In Daytona Beach, Florida, where I live now, we apparently have never done this before but are maybe about to start. Here, it seems exceptionally senseless as we get 49 inches of rainfall per year (far more than in any place I’ve ever lived). We seem to waste a lot of water here. And so I came up with some questions for fellow residents of my city to ask themselves. Maybe some of these are relevant to your area also.

Here’s what I posted on some local citizens’ forums online:

It’ll be good to have the opportunity at tonight’s meeting to ask questions about this “toilet to tap” plan. It’s also a good opportunity to ask OURSELVES some questions about our water usage and priorities.

• Why do we keep buying bottled water, and why do we keep allowing corporations to plunder our aquifer and sell it back to us in plastic bottles?
• Why do we not have more respect for native/waterwise landscaping, why do we glorify manicured turf landscaping even on the beachside?
• Why do we (=as a city) keep clear-cutting trees and native scrub, leaving a moonscape that is basically a desert even with all the rain we get?
• Why aren’t more of us collecting rainwater, and why doesn’t the city promote rainwater harvesting, and harvest rainwater at its own facilities?
• Why are we planting so many high-maintenance, resource-intensive palm trees?)

And possibly, this “toilet to tap” threat could be an opportunity for introducing compost toilets! Compost toilets are super easy to use, and offer an alternative to crapping into fresh water. By the way, many cities across the nation have been doing “toilet to tap” for a long time. In our city we are fortunate not to have this yet, and, with some basic conservation measures like those I mentioned above, we could possibly avoid it.

In my post to fellow residents I didn’t mention voluntary austerity; radical conservation. But here on this blog, of course, it’s the main menu item. Household-level, voluntary, radical conservation. If a significant percentage of households were catching at least some rainwater, and phasing out water-hungry landscaping, it would go a long way toward making “toilet to tap” unnecessary anywhere. And then there is the holy grail of water conservation: widespread legalization and popularization of compost toilets. If we did that, we’d not only cut out a lot of our water woes, but, by turning “waste” into compost, vastly increase the health of our soils.

You, who choose to read this blog and believe in the power of household-level daily actions, are the heroes in the war on waste, pollution, land degradation, wildlife extinction, poverty, weather extremes, and climate change. Thank you for being here. Your footprint-reduction efforts matter! Keep going, and share your successes. (And if you want a handy, succinct yet highly readable guide to low-footprint living, get yourself a copy of my book DEEP GREEN!)

Recommended Resources & Food for Thought:
• Rainwater catchment calculator: Incredible! Even my little 100-square-foot patio roof has the potential to collect 2,500 gallons of rainwater a year! When I’m in ruthless water-miser mode, that can easily meet my personal water consumption needs. And then there’s the roof of my 988-square-foot house, which has the capacity to collect almost 25,000 gallons of water a year! Holy cannoli. That’d be more than enough even for outdoor irrigation of fruits and veggies through the drought phases.
• Brad Lancaster Water Harvesting channel on YouTube: In addition to being a “fountain” of knowledge on water harvesting, Brad is incredibly enjoyable to watch and listen to. One of the most powerful things I learned from Brad’s talks is that “Most deserts are manmade.” For starters I recommend Rainwater Harvesting Basics (1) (a 9-minute video); and “Overview of Lancaster Homestead Water Harvesting Strategies (12 minutes). Or just dive into the delightful 52-minute “Dryland Harvesting Home Hacks Sun, Rain, Food, & Surroundings.”
• “Greening the Desert” 5-minute video with permaculturist Geoff Lawton – just incredible.
• Compost toilets, humanure — Joseph Jenkins “Loveable Loo Overview”: “The Loveable Loo is an eco-toilet that requires no water, plumbing, pipes, vents, drains, electricity, or urine separation. It’s a toilet that makes gardens. It’s designed to collect toilet material for composting in a separate location. This 11 minute video provides a brief overview on the toilet and the processes.”