02 March 2011

Follow the (Dirty) Money

It is way too late and I'm tired and cranky, so please forgive me if the tone of this post gets a little brassy. I couldn't sleep without getting this out, though, so here we go.

It hit the news Monday that the "eco-friendly" water-saving low-flow toilets that have been installed in San Francisco--heavily promoted by city/county government--have resulted in a backup of waste material in the city's sewer systems. This is because there isn't enough water flow, now, to push the sludge through the century-plus-old system before it sticks to the old sludge that's there. The backups cause a stench to rise to the streets, especially during the summer when it's warmer. If you've been to a Giants game at AT&T park, you probably know what I mean.

In both those articles, a spokesman for the Public Utilities Commission is quoted as saying that water consumption has been reduced by "about 20 million gallons", as if that is a significant amount. There is no mention of the total consumption, or what part of the total 20 million gallons represents.

Well, over at Lew Rockwell's blog, Jim Brownfield has references and shows his work, and comes up with a figure of 0.08%. Let me say that again. Water consumption in San Francisco has been reduced, since the installation of low-flow toilets began, by 8/100 of 1%, or 8/10,000 of the entire consumption. And that's rounded. The actual figure is around 0.078324%.

I'd also like to point out that Jim uses consumption figures from 2007-2008, which, if you still want to claim the low-flow toilets have had any effect, may already have been reduced. That means the actual reduction percentage would be less than what he calculated.

There could be any number of factors contributing to the reported reduction. It's been wetter than usual here in western Nevada the past few years, and the storms generally come through the Bay area first; maybe people just aren't watering their lawns as much. Or maybe people are getting sick of the nanny-city, or can't find work or afford the taxes, and are moving out. Maybe the toilets really have contributed to the reduction, which is statistically insignificant.

Oh, the articles also mention that over $100 million has been spent so far on sewer system upgrades, with more likely to come. I wonder if some of the same manufacturers or distributors of those low-flow toilets also supply sewer system parts? Or if some of the same people own large shares of companies that supply both?