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 ( 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.

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