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Water efficiency in the house.

The West is coming up short on water again. According to the U.S.

Department of Agriculture's Water Supply Forecasting unit, we received roughly half of our normal snowpack this year. Worse, we got only a third of normal runoff, officially making this the driest year since 1977. This bad news only deepens concern about the West's water future (see page 92 of the March Sunset) and reinforces the widespread need to take intelligent conservation measures.

Where does all the water go?

Agriculture uses nearly 90 percent of the West's water. The rest is divided among industry, municipalities, and households-where roughly equal amounts are used in the house and the garden. Both indoors and out, households squander water at an alarming rate, but in this report we concentrate on indoor conservation. Toilets consume more than any other appliance, accounting for roughly 40 percent of daily usage; next come baths and showers, washing machines, and dishwashers.

Conservation measures also include shower-flow restrictors, water-metering programs, and several others we'll discuss.

Conventional tank-type toilets use 31/2 to 7 gallons of water per flush. That may not sound like much, but the gallons add up quickly. The Environmental Protection Agency estimates a household average of 20 flushes a day, so a toilet using 31/2 gallons per cycle draws 70 gallons of water a day. A town of 35,000 households winds up flushing almost 900 million gallons of water a year, and a large metropolitan area of 2 million households-about the size of Denver, San Diego, or Phoenix-flushes more than 51 billion.

To stanch this flow, Western communities are beginning to require ultra-low-volume (ULV) toilets in new construction-and encouraging retrofits in existing houses. The stingiest of these ULVs draws just under a gallon a flush. With this commode, our hypothetical small town would save 640 millon gallons a year, the big city more than 36 billion -better than a year's supply in each case.

What are the new ULVs like -and how well do they work?

Already introduced by six manufacturers, ULVs are pretty much like any other toilets. Generally, parts and installation requirements are no different from those for conventional toilets although replacement parts aren't yet widely available at hardware and home center stores. As building codes become stricter and markets expand both here and abroad, you'll have an easier time finding both toilets and parts.

ULV prices range from $160 to $300. By contrast, conventional toilets run $35 to $100; fancier models run $200 to $1,200 and up. Manufacturers and government agencies such as the California Department of Water Conservation claim that a ULV can save a family of four $25 to $50 a year on water bills.

Now let's talk appearance. ULVs come in white, off-white, and a limited range of colors. The steeper-sided bowls hold less water than you expect; some recent models have a visible dark rubber trap at the bottom of the bowl. These toilets flush and refill faster; they're slightly noisier than the quietest conventional toilets. The bowl may need cleaning a bit more frequently. One Swedish import is cast as a single piece of vitreous china; to flush it, you pull up on a knob atop the tank (unfortunately, the domed top eliminates that hand place for a box of tissues).

How to save water with an existing fixture

A "toilet dam"is a no-cost way of saving from a quart to a gallon per flush; put a brick, a bag of rocks, or a plastic milk carton weighted with sand into your toilet tank. Note, though, that this can hurt flush efficiency in lower-volume (3 1/2-gallon) tanks, and sand or decomposing brick can damage porcelain and clog pipes.

Leaks can also cost you precious gallons and money each day. Put a few drops of food coloring or a dye tablet in the tank. If you begin to see color in the bowl, you've got a leak; try tightening or replacing the seals on the flush mechanism. Also take the tank lid off; if water's pouring into the overflow tube, adjust the ball cock to stop the refill cycle sooner.

Flow restrictors and new heads conserve water in your shower

Flow restrictors for shower heads and faucets, in vogue during previous droughts, are back again. Costing less than $1, these inserts are essentially washers with small holes to slow the passage of water.

New are low-flow shower heads, which have nonremovable built-in restsrictors and deliver water in a fine, hard spray. Costing $5 to $25, they cut water consumption down to about 2 gallons per minute - far less than the 5 to 8 gallons of standard heads.

We found the low-flow heads splash more and are slightly noisier than standard heads. Less expensive models deliver fine droplets that won't wet your body as quickly and might even feel a little cool by the time they reach your knees. Some types have shutoff valves on the nozzle (see picture on page 154); these let you stop the water to soap down, but the water retains its temperature for when you're ready to resume rinsing.

Communities' concerns, incentives

Besides conserving water, ULVs are particularly good news to cities that lack the resources to build or update sewage treatment plants. Sewage systems in many areas are running at or even beyond capacity, resulting in excessive wear and tear on the systems themselves-and, in some cases, in moratoriums on further building. Typically, refurbishment or extension of sewage systems also necessitates increasing water bills or property taxes to raise the necessary funds.

Those costs are high; estimates for renovating Los Angeles' existing facilities exceed $1 billion. And Tucson passed an ordinance requiring ULVs not so much for water conservation as to forestall costly new effluent-handling facilities.

Recent studies in California and Florida concluded that sewer lines won't clog or treatment plants work less efficiently as a result of the reduced water flow. During the mid-'70s drought-when flushing less often was widely encouraged- San Francisco and Los Angeles had no appreciable problems with the flow of waste through the sewers.

In scattered areas, waste water from leaky or overfull septic tanks has polluted ground water. (This, too, has led to talk of building moratoriums.) ULVs help prolong the lives of septic drainfields.

Communities have begun offering conservation incentives. In California, the town of Goleta promoted water conservation with a retrofit program exchanging homeowners' old shower heads for low-flow models-and San Jose's Office of Environmental Management has been distributing thousands of free water-conservation kits containing toilet dams, leak detectors, shower heads, and informational literature.

Phoenix builder John Long installs lowflow heads, ULVs, and other water-saving appliances in his tracts. "Our studies show that by taking all available measures, homeowners can significantly reduce indoor consumption - from 240 gallons per person per day to about 50," he says. And his housing developments have experienced no sewer backups,

In Honolulu, Kaiser Development Company plans to install ULVs and other unthirsty equipment in future housing projects, The company expects four person households to save about 100 gallons of water a day- and cut water-heating bills by $115 a year. The Hawaii Board of Water Supply plans to monitor the actual results, then decide whether to endorse products or implement large scale conservation measures.

And in Glendale, Arizona, residents who retrofit with ULVs can get cash rebates of up to $100 from the city.

Next? Meters, more codes, high-tech "eavesdropping" on hidden leaks

As water shortages become more acute, communities will need to take more serious action to ensure conservation.

Except for Montana, all 13 Western states have adopted water-conservation measures ranging from tougher plumbing codes to ground-water management programs. On California's Monterey Peninsula, it's now a misdemeanor to install a "water-hog" toilet one using more than 1 1/2 gallons per flush in new construction. Similar legislation may soon be adopted throughout the state.

Phoenix plans to step up enforcement of ordinances requiring low-flow fixtures, including toilets, in new residential building; the city has also reduced water and sewage hookup charges for new houses with water-thrifty devices. Both moves are part of Phoenix's effort to reduce water use by 20 percent by the year 2000.

In Citrus Heights, near Sacramento, debate rages over an indoor water-metering program in which meters would be installed so that residents can be charged for the amount of water they actually use (if homeowners use more water than they're allocated, they could be subject to fines). "Tighter metering of residential use can cut water consumption by 20 percent," estimates Jonas Minton of the California Department of Water Resources.

On the edge of technology is underground leak detection; water district technicians can use sensitive amplification equipment to isolate water leaks in buried pipes. This process is increasingly popular among public utilities. A few plumbers around the West use similar methods to help find leaks indoors or in hard-to-reach areas such as beneath decks or patios.

One idea on the horizon is water audits similar to the energy audits that power companies developed in the 1970s- in which utilities survey your daily consumption and suggest ways to conserve. As more measures come into effect, Sunset will report them.
COPYRIGHT 1987 Sunset Publishing Corp.
No portion of this article can be reproduced without the express written permission from the copyright holder.
Copyright 1987 Gale, Cengage Learning. All rights reserved.

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Publication:Sunset
Date:Sep 1, 1987
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