The PJ Tatler

Eco-Irony: S.F.'s low-flow toilets cause environmental crisis

The Law of Unintended Consequences strikes the Green Movement once again:

Low-flow toilets cause a stink in SF

The background: Northern Californians feel guilty using water, thinking it better to let the state’s rivers flow free to support endangered fish species. Local greenies endlessly whine about human over-consumption of our water resources. One solution pushed by environmentalists is for everyone to install low-flow toilets, which use just enough water to flush away any excreta, but no more. San Francisco adopted this initiative, not only putting low-flow toilets at all city facilities, and requiring them in all new commercial buildings, but encouraging homeowners to install them as well with rebates and credits. Fast forward a few years: Success! Now the city uses 20 millions fewer gallons of water annually.

But then, as always, yet another green fantasy backfires spectacularly:

San Francisco’s big push for low-flow toilets has turned into a multimillion-dollar plumbing stink.

Skimping on toilet water has resulted in more sludge backing up inside the sewer pipes, said Tyrone Jue, spokesman for the city Public Utilities Commission. That has created a rotten-egg stench near AT&T Park and elsewhere, especially during the dry summer months.

The city has already spent $100 million over the past five years to upgrade its sewer system and sewage plants, in part to combat the odor problem.

Now officials are stocking up on a $14 million, three-year supply of highly concentrated sodium hypochlorite – better known as bleach – to act as an odor eater and to disinfect the city’s treated water before it’s dumped into the bay. It will also be used to sanitize drinking water.

That translates into 8.5 million pounds of bleach either being poured down city drains or into the drinking water supply every year.

Not everybody thinks it’s a good idea.

A Don’t Bleach Our Bay alert has just gone out from eco-blogger Adam Lowry who argues the city would be much better off using a disinfectant like hydrogen peroxide – or better yet, a solution that would naturally break down the bacteria.

As for whether the supposedly environmentally friendly, low-flow toilets are worth the trouble? Well, according to Jue, they have helped trim San Francisco’s annual water consumption by about 20 million gallons.

So, cutting way back on the water flushing out the municipal excretions has caused massive sewage backups in the pipes, stinking up the city. Who could have predicted that? Spending $100 million on repairs didn’t solve the problem. Thus, as a solution, the city pours 8.5 million pounds of chemical contaminants into the ecosystem.

Move along, folks — nothing to see here.