How to Use a Waterless Urinal
MADELEINE BRAND, host:
Or maybe not water it. Californians have come up with some interesting ways to save water. Tamara Keith of member KQED researched a few high tech solutions, and she begins her tour in the men's room.
TAMARA KEITH: I'm at the Regal movie theater in Dublin, California. And it's not the kind of place that you'd expect to find water conservation at work. But just step into the men's room here, and there's a row of waterless urinals.
(Soundbite of liquid streaming)
KEITH: The theater's manager pours water into the urinal to show off how this new technology works. There's a cartridge in the drain. Inside there's a thin layer of an oily substance, and as urine passes through, the oil prevents odors from rising up. Taken together, all 15 urinals in this theater will save 700,000 gallons of water a year. But when it comes to water efficiency, landscaping is the great frontier.
Mr. JOE BERG (Municipal Water District of Orange County): So you designate your plant type, and then you go to the soil type...
KEITH: Five years ago, irrigation systems guided by smart timers were just coming on the market. Back then Joe Berg from the Municipal Water District of Orange County showed me a prototype timer in his garage. The sleek silver device would get a satellite message with the week's weather forecast, telling it how long to water Berg's lawn.
Mr. BERG: This looks similar to traditional clocks, except there's an antenna poking out the top of it. And that's the antenna that receives the pager signal from the manufacturer that adjusts the irrigation need for the week.
KEITH: A smart timer can save 10 percent of the average household's water use in a year. Since I first met Berg, Orange County has gone from a pilot project of a few hundred timers to more than 4,000 installed in residential and business landscaping. Another technology that has come into its own in the last five years is the super-efficient front-loading clothes washer. Les Girdlestone(ph) and his wife Lois bought a front-loading washer earlier this year. Rather than filling a huge tub, front-loading washers tumble clothes in a smaller pool, saving 6,000 gallons of water a year.
Mr. LES GIRDLESTONE (Appliance Consumer): Gee, it doesn't seem like there's much water in here. I put very little detergent in there. We put a full load in there, and everything comes out nice and clean, and it works just swell.
KEITH: The Girdlestones' local water district was offering a rebate which helped knock a couple hundred dollars off this 1700 dollar washer-dryer set.
Mr. GIRDLESTONE: I wouldn't consider myself to be a tree-hugger type person, but when you're going to look at such as appliances, OK, let's see what's efficient, what works, what's good.
KEITH: Girdlestone says saving water has been easy. He's changed his appliances and fixtures rather than habits. These are the very changes Peter Glick believes will be key to thirsty California's water future. He's president of the Pacific Institute, a water think-tank.
Mr. PETER GLICK (President of the Pacific Institute): Those things let us keep doing what we want and reduce the amount of water. And we should be pushing on efficiency, not deprivation.
KEITH: Glick says the drought declaration has led to a lot of talk about flushing less often, taking shorter showers and turning the faucet off when brushing. All valuable tactics, but Glick says that's behavior modification, something that won't last much longer than the draught. Install an ultra-efficient toilet or washing machine, and that's nearly permanent. For NPR News, I'm Tamara Keith in Sacramento.