City’s Water Conservation Goals Are Too Diluted

Originally appeared in Fort Collins Now

7 November 2007
Eric Fried

The cheapest place to drill for water is right in our own homes. Most of us waste so much water, we are flushing money down the drain. Fort Collins Utilities is currently updating the city’s water conservation plan, and is taking suggestions through December 8. Unfortunately, they’re being way too timid in setting conservation goals, ensuring we will continue to waste water like it wasn’t an endangered resource.

The draft report (www.fcgov.com/water/conserv-plan.php) suggests reducing household use to 140 gallons per person by 2026. I checked my latest utility bill, and even in the hottest summer months, our family used less than 100 gallons per person per day. Averaged over a year, we used less than 50 gallons per person per day. We are hardly conservation fanatics, and we had no trouble using way less per capita than the amount the city proposes to reach 20 years from now! And yes, we do take showers and wash our hands regularly.

Some folks hate the whole idea of conserving resources, as if being resource-hogs is our god-given right as Americans. They don’t like “bureaucrats” telling them what to do, and think any money spent on “water cops” would be better spent on real cops. They seem to think that if we don’t continue our wasteful American Way of Life, the terrorists win. But the truth is, in the warming global climate we have unleashed, clean, useable water is likely to be scarcer and more expensive. Get used to being a lot more efficient, if you want to survive. And realize that every dime spent on “water cops” saves us a dollar on locating, pumping, storing and delivering water to your home.

The utilities department is proposing to increase education and incentives to save water. Most of their suggestions are no-brainers: only run full loads in the dishwasher, turn off the tap while brushing your teeth, install low-flow showerheads, check for and repair leaks. But this is small potatoes. If you really want to save water, we need to engage in some potty talk.

About a fourth of your indoor water is consumed in the bathroom, and flushing your toilet 20 times a day is a big reason why. Most of the time you flush pee. Why bother? Urine is sanitary, and the smell won’t kill you. In our poorly engineered plumbing systems, we use clean, drinkable water to flush down pee, when we could easily reuse the water we wash our hands with. So live by the old saying: “If it’s yellow, let it mellow!”

Even though pee is a small part of the waste stream that enters our sewer system, it contains most of the nitrates and phosphates, which then have to be filtered out at great cost. The Europeans (naturally) are working on a toilet that separates the pee stream, which can then be used for fertilizer. The pee goes from a waste product to a resource. Brilliant! The only problem is that you have to sit down (or aim really well) to use the toilet. For half of you reading this, that’s not a problem, it’s just the way things work. For guys, this brings up the whole emasculating “should the seat be left up or down?” debate. So I have another suggestion: go out back and water your yard.

If you always go in the same spot and kill some grass, so much the better. Water-thirsty non-native turf is another huge household waste of water. If replacing bluegrass with xeriscaping, or better yet with a garden that can actually feed you, is too much work, just let it die. Then you can save all those hours of tedious yard work. If your partner or the city nuisance police give you guff for lying in the hammock while your lawn dies, or for peeing in the bushes, just tell them you’re being a water conservation hero. I’ll vouch for you.

God May Not Be a Rockies’ Fan After All

Originally appeared in Fort Collins Now

3 November 2007
Eric Fried

Apparently God is not a Rockies’ fan after all.

As we celebrated the Rockies’ magic carpet ride – winning an unbelievable 21 of 22 games to make the playoffs, sweep the National League championship and get to the World Series – it was all too easy to believe The Big Guy was wearing purple and black and pulling for our team. Baseball players are a notoriously superstitious lot, and far too many people fall prey to the conceit that their team, party or nation enjoys special celestial favor. But this Rockies’ organization went way beyond the usual religious rah-rah, with team management actively fanning the flames of controversy with some of their statements on Christ in the taxpayer-funded clubhouse.

Earlier this year in USA Today, General Manager Dan O’Dowd was quoted as saying “You look at things that have happened to us this year. You look at some of the moves we made and didn’t make. You look at some of the games we’re winning. Those aren’t just a coincidence. God has definitely had a hand in this.”

Club president Keli McGregor chimed in, “[God’s] using us in a powerful way.”

Then there was owner/CEO Charlie Monfort: ” I believe God sends signs, and we’re seeing those.”

So how come the Red Sox swept us like yesterday’s dust bunnies? Did they pray better? Are we suffering tribulation for doubting the Almighty? Has God joined Red Sox Nation?

Character’s important in sports, and good team chemistry is a priceless intangible that can make the difference between winning and losing. Talent counts, but so does having an unselfish group of players who look out for each other and never give up, rather than a bunch of high-paid fragile egos looking for their next endorsement deal or free agency jackpot. (Wassup, A-Rod!)

The problem is that in the minds of Rockies’ ownership and management, having good character means being a Christian. When they announced at the end of last season that they were looking for some good Christian men to fill the roster, I assume they spoke out of ignorance and not bigotry. Brad Hawpe is Jewish – nothing wrong with him. Kaz Matsui from Japan is not Christian, but he can still turn a nifty double play. Babe Ruth was a notorious heathen and sinner, but was a helluva pitcher and the greatest home run hitter of all time. Would the Rockies pass on Ruth? I hope not.

Here’s my explanation for the Rockies’ meteoric rise and fall, and it has nothing to do with Parables or Revelations. They built a good young nucleus of players, finally developed some pitchers who could play at a mile high, played the best defense in the league, and got timely hits. Plus they had an MVP in left field and a Rookie of the Year at shortstop. From mid-September on, they had to win every game, and they played like it. In fact, the Rox played so well they earned a weeklong layoff, while the Red Sox got hot playing must-win games in the American League championship round. As a diehard Yankees fan, it kills me to say this, but the Red Sox have the best team in baseball, with the most playoff experience.

It’s always burned me that players give credit to Jesus when they succeed, but don’t offer blame when they fail. Just once I’d love to hear during the post-game interview, “You know, the eight days off really hurt Jesus’ timing. He was rusty in Game One, and He really blew it getting picked off first base. I was very disappointed in Him. He definitely choked in this series.”

If the All-Knowing Master of the Entire Universe is paying any attention to planet Earth, I sincerely hope she’s working on the genocide in Darfur, not taking sides in a sports contest. Because in the end, baseball’s just a game.

Autos Uber Alles vs. Bikes at Budget Time

Originally appeared in Fort Collins Now

5 October 2007
Eric Fried

What is about the humble bicycle that makes some people so angry? Every year at budget time, the “Autos Only” crowd bemoans the tremendous amount of tax dollars wasted – wasted! – on bike trails, master plans, paid staff, etc. To these staunch defenders of the In-Car-Nation, spending money on any form of transportation beyond the almighty automobile is heresy, which must be purged from our municipal soul.

And yet, the actual amount spent on bicycles is a drop in our city’s bucket. For instance, in 2008, funds proposed for bicycling, including fully implementing the bicycle plan, running Fort Collins Bikes and the bicycle library, total about $325,000 out of a transportation budget of over $110 million, or about one-third of one percent. Taking out the one-time $62 million expense for the Mason Street corridor – most of which is state and federal money with a small city contribution – the total transportation budget is about $48 million, with the bike portion adding up to about two-thirds of one percent. Come on, automobilistas, isn’t 99 and one-third percent of the budget good enough for you?

Fort Collins is a bicycle-friendly city. At least, that’s what the sign on the East Prospect gateway to the city says. After all, the weather is good most of the year, most of our local terrain is fairly flat, and we have a large network of bike trails and lanes. An estimated 4-5% of city residents bike (or walk) to work regularly, and the number spikes during the annual Bike to Work Week. We just witnessed a hugely successful Tour de Fat with a record-setting bike parade, so this town is on a roll, so to speak, when it comes to bicycling.

And yet we have the inevitable backlash, with complaints about bikers who don’t follow the rules, bicycles hogging the roads, and cyclists not paying their fair share for transportation upkeep.

True, some cyclists are thoughtless idiots, just like some drivers. They don’t signal, obey traffic signs, or even ride on the right side of the road. They may be talking on a cell phone, sipping a decaf mocha frappiato and not wearing a helmet. These are minor annoyances at best. When’s the last time someone was killed by a drunk cyclist, or an SUV was totalled in a collision with a Schwinn?

As for hogging the road, that’s just silly. Even when Critical Mass takes over the roads once a month, they only make a small impact, except for the clownish over-reaction of local law enforcement. Cyclists try to ride on the right side of the road, but there’s often glass and debris there that forces them to move in from the curb. And yes, sometimes they ride two abreast so they can talk to each other. But every cyclist who leaves her car home and gets on her bike leaves more space on the road for your Chevy Subdivision and Ford Excavator. So even if you never ride, thank the growing legion of local cyclists for lessening congestion and clearing our air.

Cyclists certainly pay their share of transportation expenses. They don’t tear up the roads much in the first place, or use gasoline imported from Middle Eastern dictators, or contribute to global warming, so they have much less to pay back. Most cyclists also own cars, for which they pay all the usual taxes. I generally drive because my work demands it, but we like to bicycle with our children on weekends. Some people commute by bike, but keep a car for getaways and hauling stuff. We are one and the same.

So why do some people hate bikes? Guilty conscience, perhaps? Or is it a subsconscious pyschodrama, with cyclists representing the godless, Euro-commie, sprout-eating, freeze-in-the-dark hippie crowd threatening all that is good and patriotic and fossil-fuel-burning in America. Yeah, that must be it.

Fort Collins is a bicycle town. Deal with it.