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Davis, California

Monday, June 24, 2024

Letter to the Editor: Humanure

Congratulations Davis, we just passed Measure I! For all of you not paying attention, or for those making amateur porn, this means that the city of Davis will shift its water supply from ground water to the Sacramento River. What does that mean for me you might ask?

Well, you might notice a better taste in the water due to the decrease in selenium, boron and salts present in our new water, but more likely than not you’ll notice your water bill will triple since this project is proposed to cost at least $100 million. Why did we decide this you ask? Well, there are a number of reasons, but one basic answer is that we have over-pumped from the ground water for too long and need to find a new supply. But why did we over-pump in the first place? Good question. At this point I could attempt to explain the history of our over-consumption of water because of industries such as agriculture, paper mills, mining and most recently hydraulic fracturing, but instead I’d like to focus on the toilet.

I saw a meme the other day that depicted a child from the Global South with a skeptical look on his face. The text read, “So you’re telling me that you have so much clean water, that you sh*t in it?” Damn, that kid has a point. Every time we use the toilet we are basically contaminating otherwise clean water. I mean, it’s not our fault, it’s what we’ve been taught to do. It’s what we are reminded and reinforced to do every time we enter into the defecation/urination room. But what else could we do? If we pee or poop on the street then we risk an indecent exposure charge or if we just bury massive quantities of it then we risk contaminating groundwater or risk bacterial infections.

Hmmm … what to do, what to do … I got it, we could compost it! Surprisingly the process is really simple. Step 1: poop/pee in a bucket. Step 2: wipe your butt (you can still use toilet paper). Step 3: cover the poop and used toilet paper with a liberal amount of wood chips (the wood chips will neutralize the smell and speed up the composting process). Once your bucket is full, empty this into a barrel lined with straw and repeat the process. Once your barrel is full and topped with straw, put a piece of chicken wire on top to ensure pests don’t dig around in it. Plop in a thermometer and let it sit for six to eight months.

But wait — not everyone can do that, not everyone has the space. That’s true, but the city does have the space. So let’s think about it; the most efficient toilet on the market uses 1.3 gallons per flush (toilets manufactured after 2006). As many people may find out by going into their bathroom, this is not what the majority of toilets are. But for the sake of math we’ll go with this number. So 1.3 gallons H2O x 4 flushes per day (including urinating) x 365 days/year x ~60k residents of Davis = 113,880,000 gallons H2O per year for Davis, Calif. Damn… and that’s the conservative estimate.

I guess at this point I could make a plea to change your toilet to high efficiency or tell you “if it’s yellow let it mellow” but that just doesn’t seem like enough. Especially when you look at the water use of those industries I mentioned earlier (1 natural gas well with hydraulic fracturing = ~ 6 million gallons of water). Thinking back to that meme, there is something definitely off about a culture that believes the best way to deal with waste is to flush it away with clean water.

I got it, poop in buckets and drop them off at your representative’s house until they change things.

Kase Wheatley
Fourth-year sustainable agriculture major


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