Wednesday, February 26, 2014

My Water is Being Flushed Down the Toilet

I must have been at the peak of boredom (if boredom can even have peaks… was I at the valley of boredom?) a few months ago, because I actually read my water bill. Normally, I look at the dollar amount, gauge its reasonableness with a highly complex and intricate formula that mostly involves the question, “Does that sound right?”, and then I pay it.

For some reason, I actually read the charts and graphs on the August/September bill and was amazed to find out that we used an average of 772 gallons per day.


That seems excessive, to say the least. How is that even possible? That’s probably like nine or ten Olympic-size swimming pools’ worth, or, to put it in more understandable suburban terms, about seven billion 16-ounce Starbucks travel mugs.

Back in August and September, we Californians had no idea we were in for the driest winter we’ve had since the dawn of time, so I was watering my lawns dutifully, to keep up the ridiculous social convention of green grass being more attractive than brown dirt.

I stopped watering my lawn around the end of September, unwittingly ending up on the cutting edge of the self-righteous, drought-conscious Northern California homeowner scene. Now in February, after we have received roughly 0.0 inches of rain in December and January, I can point to my dying, brown, lawn-like substance with pride and say I cared about the environment and our precious natural resources long before you people with green lawns did. The truth is, I really stopped watering because I don’t like mowing. I just sort of stumbled into this whole self-righteous thing.

Curious about our water usage without all the annoying lawn care, I checked the December/January bill and I was shocked. We used an average of 292 gallons per day, which seemed a little high still, but what I was shocked to see was that the dollar amount of the new bill was only 36% less than the old one even though we cut our water usage by 62%.

How does that work, Placer County Water Agency? If I did my math correctly, based on your billing logic, if we stopped using water altogether you would still want $47 from us.

We have three young boys, all of whom play sports and wear clothes to school, and my wife owns nearly a third of all the clothes in North America, so our washing machine has basically been running continuously for nine years now. That makes the 300 gallons per day number a little more believable, but it still seemed high to me. Until last night.

I had just put the kids to bed and my wife was out of the house - wearing the third or fourth outfit of the day - so I was firmly planted on the couch in front of the TV, no doubt watching some manly show about wrestling alligators or blowing things up. The boys’ bathroom sits upstairs above the living room, and when the toilet flushes, it sounds like a medium-sized waterfall in the wall behind the TV.

When I heard what was probably the fourth flush in as many minutes, I started to pay attention. When I heard the estimated ninth flush, I began counting. Knowing which one of our children it was – I will not divulge the culprit’s identity here, to spare him from any future horrific embarrassment should his senior prom date happen upon this column - I decided not to intervene, even though nine flushes is obviously overkill for any bodily function a kid can produce. I was treating it more as an experiment than anything, mostly out of curiosity at just how many times one boy felt it necessary to flush, but also because I really didn’t want to drag my lazy butt off the couch.

At flush number twenty-four I got off the couch. He was up to twenty-six when I made it up the stairs. I’m not making this up. (Neither the flush count, nor the fact that I’m so old it took me two flushes to get up the stairs.)

I politely inquired as to what he was doing.

“Yes, I can see that. Why are you flushing so much?”
“I don’t want to clog the toilet.”

Hmm… While I appreciated his motives, I didn’t really know which subject to tackle first – The fact that the wipe/flush/wipe/flush/wipe/flush method, while effective in preventing toilet clogs, is not the most economical or conservative approach; or the fact that if you have to wipe twenty-seven  times, you might want to improve your overall technique.

Like so much of my really good parenting advice, I decided to put it off until later.

“OK, well, we obviously need to have a talk about pooping, but let’s do it tomorrow, OK?”
“OK dad. Goodnight”
“Goodnight, son.”
“Yes, son?”
“I like to have a clean butt.”
“We all do, buddy. Goodnight”

I walked back downstairs shaking my head. At least now I know how we manage to use 300 gallons of water a day. My son just accounted for half of it.

As summer approaches in the great parched state of California, we’re definitely going to need to work on more drought-friendly wiping methods around here. Not only will that help everyone water-wise, but it should also help our toilet paper budget tremendously.

Running out of water is one thing, but if my boys keep going the way they are now with the toilet paper, we might be forced to re-purpose that water bill, if you know what I mean.


See you soon,


Copyright © 2014 Marc Schmatjen

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