Boeing's High-Tech Flush Fights Water Shortage

Boeing has installed 400 dual-flush toilets in its Space and Intelligence Systems campus outside Los Angeles. It's a water-saving strategy that has inspired toilet-envy among some of Boeing's male employees.

Copyright © 2009 NPR. For personal, noncommercial use only. See Terms of Use. For other uses, prior permission required.

MICHELE NORRIS, host:

After three bone-dry years, California is facing a serious drought. Cities and businesses across the state are trying to figure out ways to save water and money.

That led NPR's Karen Grigsby Bates to one company that's flush with success.

KAREN GRIGSBY BATES: Thanks to the drought, the luxury of a long, hot shower is getting ready to be a thing of the past for Californians.

At a recent press conference, Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger said the state's water delivery system is sadly outdated and scarily inadequate.

Governor ARNOLD SCHWARZENEGGER (Republican, California): We have a water system that is for 18 million people. Now, we have 38 million people.

BATES: Recognizing that, several cities around the state have been working on water conservation. One of them is the city of El Segundo, about 10 minutes away from Los Angeles International Airport.

In addition to its homey bungalows, the city is home to high rises devoted to aerospace, computer technology and Mattel, home of Barbie. Over half the city's water is reclaimed, used a second time for irrigation and other purposes.

And El Segundo's mayor, Kelly McDowell, says that by reusing nearby water, companies are saving water and money.

Mayor KELLY McDOWELL (El Segundo, California): The movement of water in California is responsible for 19 percent of the electricity consumed in the state.

BATES: McDowell's an environmentalist, but he's a pragmatist, too.

Mayor McDOWELL: By saving water, companies save money. That makes them healthier business citizens of our community. It helps people keep jobs, and that's what it's all about.

BATES: El Segundo is also home to the Boeing Corporation's Space and Intelligent Systems campus, and the whole complex is dead serious about conserving energy and water. Employees recycle a huge percentage of their trash, turn the lights off when they leave rooms, and use recycled paper products. Faucets are fitted with aerators to make less water go farther.

(Soundbite of dripping water)

BATES: Boeing has retrofitted all 176 bathrooms in this complex for maximum water savings. One of the biggest savers is 400 new, dual flush toilets that allot water according to their use.

Site supervisor Mona Simpson takes me on a tour of the ladies room, where the first group of toilets is installed. She points out an instructional graphic on the wall.

Ms. MONA SIMPSON (Site Supervisor, Boeing): So this is, I believe, the signage that we sent. It gives the directions on how to use the dual flush valve.

BATES: The lever on the toilet looks like the one in most business bathrooms, except it's bright green, a reminder to think green. Simpson does the honors.

Ms. SIMPSON: So, for liquid waste, you flush up.

(Soundbite of toilet flushing)

Ms. SIMPSON: And you only expend 1.1 gallons of water. You flush down for solid waste.

(Soundbite of toilet flushing)

Ms. SIMPSON: And you've got 1.6 gallons of water. The typical, conventional toilet has 3.5 gallons of flush. So it's a significant savings.

BATES: The company estimates it will save about 870,000 gallons of water this year. That should help hold down the price for the water it has to buy from El Segundo. Boeing might even increase its savings if its next planned project, waterless urinals, goes forward.

Mona Simpson says they'll work to get Boeing's men to accept those.

Ms. SIMPSON: That is completely a different technology. So, we need to make sure that, you know, we've got, how shall I say, customer buy-in, that it's something they feel comfortable using.

BATES: Maybe they could make the new equipment look like tree trunks. Guys seem pretty comfortable with those.

Karen Grigsby Bates, NPR News.

Copyright © 2009 NPR. All rights reserved. No quotes from the materials contained herein may be used in any media without attribution to NPR. This transcript is provided for personal, noncommercial use only, pursuant to our Terms of Use. Any other use requires NPR's prior permission. Visit our permissions page for further information.

NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by a contractor for NPR, and accuracy and availability may vary. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Please be aware that the authoritative record of NPR's programming is the audio.

Comments

 

Please keep your community civil. All comments must follow the NPR.org Community rules and terms of use, and will be moderated prior to posting. NPR reserves the right to use the comments we receive, in whole or in part, and to use the commenter's name and location, in any medium. See also the Terms of Use, Privacy Policy and Community FAQ.