Should You Flush or Not?

In these drought-stricken times, it’s a question worth pondering.


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Illustration by Heather Hardison

 

Let’s talk about pee. Is it OK to bring up the yellow-is-mellow thing at our dinner parties? In this drought-stricken era, are topics once considered inappropriate for polite company now perfectly fine to mention out loud?

To find out, we consulted with some water and etiquette experts. Manners are important, certainly, and we mustn’t throw out the baby with the gray water. Still, we need to conserve, and that justifies some occasional frank talk about such topics as waste disposal, food preparation, and cleanliness. After all, flushing takes six to eight gallons, so we need to make it count.

“This is a community issue,” said Nelsy Rodriguez, spokeswoman for the East Bay Municipal Utility District. “This is a really precious resource, and we have be talking to people when we see someone wasting water.”

Big water users in industry and the Central Valley maybe have the most to contribute, but the water lords insist that consumers have to do their share, which means behaviors have to change. In the East Bay, the goal is to keep usage per day to 35 gallons per person.

A typical shower takes 2.5 gallons a minute. Rodriguez said she has changed her music selection in her bathroom. “I have a five-minute playlist,” she said. “No more Pandora.”

Joyce Scardina Becker, founder of a company called Events of Distinction and a teacher in a certificate program for wedding planners at California State University, East Bay, recalled being in a friend’s kitchen recently while dinner was being prepared. The host started slowly washing the fruit under a fast-running tap.

“We have to find a way to bring up the subject, not to be rude about it, but just to politely suggest maybe there are other ways to wash a couple of pieces of fruit than wasting all that water,” she said.

As for weddings, Becker suggested couples consider moving the photo shoot anywhere but the manicured lawn. Who wants to be thinking of a water shortage 20 years from now? Anyway, Becker noted, “gravel can look lovely.”

But there are some limits, Becker added. If you have too much to drink at the reception and wind up stumbling home, don’t even think about relieving yourself on the neighbor’s rosebushes, no matter how parched they look. “No time of year, no matter how bad the drought, that’s not OK,” she said.

Rodriguez said urine flushing has yet to become a topic of official policy debate, although it has come up a few times in public comment at meetings.

EBMUD focuses on big water users, ending wasteful outdoor watering practices, and urging people to swap out green lawns for drought-tolerant landscaping. It wants restaurants to stop automatically filling everybody’s water glasses, which might eventually make a difference in the amount of flushing going on, but that’s not the motive. Not pouring all that water saves not only the water on the table but also avoids the need to wash a glass unnecessarily.

As for “yellow, let it mellow?”

“There’s no district policy on that,” she said, adding, “For public health, we encourage flushing of toilets.”

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