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Joseph Cramer, M.D.: Save the world, one flush at a time

Published: Monday, March 10 2014 4:10 p.m. MDT

As part of a bathroom upgrade, we installed a WaterSense-certified high-efficiency toilet, or HET. Instead of our former three-gallon behemoth, we now use a paltry 1.28 gallons per flush. If that is not saving the world, I don’t know what is.

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As a humble physician, I am accustomed to saving lives and eliminating suffering.

Saving the world is another thing. The cool part about it is that you don't have to have an advanced degree — everyone can play.

You save the earth by saving water.

We have all saved coupons, or at least your spouse has. We have saved time by taking a shortcut. Some of you may even have saved the day when you showed up at a Scout camp with a can opener. Others have saved the party when they came with snacks.

Goalies save games. We tell our kids to save their money. We save an hour every November (or March — I can never remember which).

But this is the real thing. We are going to save humankind and civilization with a simple, everyday utility, the water-frugal toilet.

Go ahead and laugh. You won’t be so arrogant when you come to my house with your empty water bottle asking — no, pleading — for a drop.

It will be the movie "Rango" all over again. The town of Dirt was dry and dusty. The priceless liquid was rationed every Wednesday until it was gone. Water became the currency. Jewels and gems mean nothing when someone is thirsty.

My enthusiasm for saving water probably unconsciously dates back to my childhood. Mom was reared on a dry farm in central Utah. "Dry" is the operative word. It seemed like every night my brother and I were advised by our kneeling mother to ask in our prayers for rain.

On top of that, my brother and I grew up in the Valley of the Sun. There, the operative word is "sun." Rain was a rarity. My dad would call it "liquid sunshine."

However, like so many other wonderful things in my life, this newest crusade to save the world was my wife’s doing. She raised five boys in our home. You know what that can mean to a bathroom. So after 24 years, she wanted a redo. Who can blame her?

With the help of a son and his wife and a painter and a wallpaper-hanger, we now have a sanctuary that is almost too nice to use.

As part of the upgrade, we installed a WaterSense-certified, high-efficiency toilet, or HET. Instead of our former 3-gallon behemoth, we now use a paltry 1.28 gallons per flush. If that is not saving the world, I don’t know what is.

It is estimated that with five flushes per day, the new annual use is 2,336 gallons versus the old 6,388. With a 7-gallons-per-flush toilet, the annual water down the drain is 12,775 gallons.

Imagine what a person could do with another 4,000 to 10,000 gallons. If 2 million citizens of this great state all switched to HETs, that would save a lot of H2O.

Think about it. During the Super Bowl halftime alone, the nation could have saved enough water to fill some dry lake to the brim.

There is a cost. Water-minimalist toilets with a silent, self-closing lid don’t come cheap. The good news is that even I, a clumsy non-surgery doc, installed one upstairs without special tools. That is not to say I didn’t scrape my hand and bleed over the pristine porcelain bowl, but I did it. Now I will go nowhere else.

People talk about the finite amount of oil. They worry because we are a carbon-burning society. However, it is finite water that needs our concern. During a tour of desert-hot Israel, our guide repeatedly reminded us that “water is life.”

OK, I am not pure. We still have a lawn seeded with a misplaced grass 1,500 miles from its Kentucky home and Churchill Downs. My wife needs to get on another crusade.

So the next time you sit and ponder, think about saving the world in a single flush. Get a HET.

Joseph Cramer, M.D., is a board-certified pediatrician, fellow of the American Academy of Pediatrics, practicing physician for 30 years and a hospitalist at Primary Children's Hospital and the University of Utah. Email: jgcramermd@yahoo.com

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