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Don’t Flush This Idea Away

With each kerplush of a toilet, gallons of water that traveled hundreds of miles from Northern California or the Colorado River spill into sewers. In this overpopulated, arid basin, where forecasters’ mouths go dry with anxiety about possible water shortages each fall, a urinal that can save as much as 40,000 gallons a year would seem as valuable as an April shower that turns into a downpour.

So why are Los Angeles’ rigid bureaucrats and weak-kneed politicians so willing to flush these savings down the drain? The key to that riddle appears to be the flusher itself -- or lack thereof.

The appliance in question is a urinal that requires no water, and thus has no flusher. It looks like the traditional model known to men across America but has a plastic cartridge over the drain that contains an oil-like liquid. That liquid floats on top of the urine to seal its odor before it flows into the sewer without water to push it along.

Since last year, sports fans at the Rose Bowl have used the 259 waterless urinals there with no complaints. Engineering professors and students at UCLA have only good things to say about the one installed there. They even compared them scientifically with old-fashioned flushers, noting bacteria growth rates, odors and maintenance costs over the life of the device. UCLA’s verdict: The water-free model wins “in all categories of evaluation.”

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Sensibly impressed, L.A. City Council members Ruth Galanter and Eric Garcetti have introduced a motion amending the city building code to allow -- not require -- builders to install the innovative devices. But council colleagues and city functionaries are resisting, a reluctance not explained by standard-issue inertia alone.

Because these potties lack flushers, you see, there’s no flush valve to break. That means no flushers to repair. Plumbing and pipe-fitters unions don’t cite that as their objection, of course. Instead, they’ve been wringing their callused hands about such horrifying possibilities as toxic fumes or, in the case of a building fire, the urinals erupting (we kid you not) in flames.

The hyper-caution must be contagious. Bureaucrats in the Building and Safety Department say they aren’t sure about this newfangled gadget and need more time to study the ominous contraption. Council worrywarts aren’t about to buck them with rash action. So millions of gallons of water gurgle toward the ocean as planners nervously await the next drought.


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