Are We Flushing Away Our Future?

Listen here:

I am old enough to remember the last great California drought, in the early 1970’s. The usual water conservation measures were enforced, but there was more. Galvanized by the crisis, people decided that most trips to the toilet need not conclude with a flush. One took a certain amount of civic pride in how long one could go before emptying the tank. A single flush avoided meant 7 gallons of water saved. And—unless you’ve got a low-flow toilet—it still does.

Eventually the drought ended, people resumed wasting water, Reagan removed the solar panels from the White House, and America was lulled into believing that the age of plenty would never end.

But even back in the 70’s there were warnings that we live in a world of finite resources and infinite appetites. And so, I have chosen to maximize my conservation by minimizing my flushes ever since. I estimate that over the past 25 years I have saved the planet some 400,000 gallons of water—without lifting a finger. What if we all took the plunge?

I called the good people at the California Department of Water Resources and was shocked to learn that Californians flush the capacity of Hetch Hetchy Reservoir every 240 days! Remember, Hetch Hetchy provides 85% of San Francisco’s water. If everyone in the state merely cut their flushing in half, we’d save the amount it takes to slake San Francisco’s thirst in just four months—every four months!

By making this small sacrifice now, we may avoid suffering far greater indignities in the future—a future that already exists for some. Consider Orme, Tennessee. Last year the town’s water source evaporated and their faucets flowed only three hours a day. If you think it can’t happen here, I’ve got a climate-change denier I’d like to sell you. But I’d really rather you just stop flushing our future down the drain.

I’m Lisa Martinovic with a parched Perspective.

The preceding commentary aired on KQED, San Francisco’s NPR affiliate, on July 2, 2008.