Break a Taboo, Save the Water

by Jules Older


Here's a fact: this summer, we’re gonna run short of water.

And here's a probability: water shortages will only get worse.

You don’t need a Ph.D. or a crystal ball to know that. Or to know the standard advice on what you can do about it.

Fix leaky faucets. Check.

Put a brick in your toilet tank. Check.

Buy a low-volume toilet. Check.

Stop watering the lawn. Check.

Tear up the lawn, and plant cactus. Check. 

All that’s well and good, but there are other solutions that somehow don’t get talked about. Sometimes it’s because they go against long-ingrained habits, sometimes because they break long-standing taboos. Yet they offer a far cheaper solution than low-volume toilets. They're free.

Let’s look at three of them.

First, when you brush your teeth, turn off the water between rinses. This will seem unnatural. This will seem un-American. But this will save… well, it’s easy to see how much this will save. One last time, keep the water running as you brush. Only, let it run into a bucket. At the end of the day, see how much water is in the bucket. Multiply that by the number of tooth-brushers in the county.

You'll find the correct answer is, A lot. It saves a lot of water.

Once you’ve mastered brushing without the accompanying sound of an open faucet, you may want to take the next step—stop running water when you do the dishes. But that’s for the advanced class. Let us now move on to the second way to save water, the one that violates a long-standing taboo.

Pee outside. Yes, pee outside. On the daisies, by the hydrangea, in the wildflower garden—pee outside. Every time you do, you’ll:

  1. save between two and seven gallons of pure, clean drinking water. That’s how much each flush of the toilet consumes.
  2. add liquid to parched ground
  3. fertilize—free and without charge—your beloved trees and flowers.


You'll also be having fun. Yeah, it’s fun to urinate in the great outdoors.

I hear three objections:

  1. Fine for men—what about women?
  2. The reason we have porcelain toilets is that urine is dirty, nasty stuff that’s full of disease-causing pathogens.
  3. What, in downtown Chicago?

So, here are the answers:

  1. No, it’s fine for women, too. In most parts of the world, women as well as men pee outside. It’s something you quickly get used to, kinda like brushing your teeth without the water running. But even if only men did it, we’d still be saving a vast amount of water.
  2. Urine is not as bad as its rap. Not nearly. On whaling ships, they used to keep a barrel around for sailors to clean their hands. (Giving new meaning to that famous TV ad, “Yer soaking in it!”) When excreted from a healthy body, urine is nearly sterile. It’s used as a fertilizer all over the world.
  3. And no, not in downtown Chicago or Cleveland or Cincinnati. But yes, oh yes on your garden in the burbs or out on the range.

If you still have reservations about human fertilization, don’t pee on the veggies, don’t pee where you’ll be weeding and don’t pee in the same place every day. After reading the autobiography of Catherine Mansfield, I nearly killed a young lemon tree by excessive fertilization. Apparently, Catherine’s lemon tree responded better to night soil than mine did to a daily dose of urine.

If you want to learn more about the use of human excrement on growing things, read The Humanure Handbook by Joseph Jenkins.

Oh, and if you want your lawn to survive the inevitable summer droughts without excess watering, do it a favor—stop cutting it so low and so often. Give the grass an extra inch of growth, and it will thank you by staying green while the neighbor’s is as dry as a pretzel and brown as, well, dead grass.

That'll save you gas and time as well as precious water.


Jules Older has written more than 30 books for kids and adults. Plus he's co-creator of the iPhone appSan Francisco Restaurants 

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