Today’s blog is by Laurie Loftin, the ACC Water Conservation Coordinator, who admits too much
Yes, technically, I drink toilet water. This unfortunate misnomer is often thrown about while on a visit to classrooms.
Let me explain. As part of my job, I speak with students about all things water. Topics vary depending on the age group and the educational standard to which I am teaching. As a member of the Water Conservation Office, I have an additional agenda with these outings. I promote the value of water whenever possible. This is a building block to enact behavior change. If one lacks the awareness of how important water is in their life, there is less motivation to protect it through water efficiency.
My visits start off simply enough. I ask the eager learners where the water in their home comes from. Excited little hands quickly shoot up in the air and the responses flow. Kroger! The store! The sink! Not the answers I am looking for.
I push forward, trying to fine tune my questioning. Where does the water come from before it gets to the sink in their home? The ocean is a common response. After a brief talk about salt water, someone will suggest the river. Now we are in the pool.
I press on, fully aware my questioning is no longer simple. Which rivers? By the time I leave the classroom, the students can name the three sources for drinking water in Athens as 1) Middle Oconee River, 2) North Oconee River, and 3) the Bear Creek Reservoir.
So, why do I publicly claim to drink toilet water? And more importantly, why do I suggest that you do, too?
Let me continue sharing with you my experience in the classroom. Recognizing I missed my calling as an interrogator, I keep questioning the children. How do we get the river water cleaned at our drinking water treatment plant and then to their homes? A future engineer explains to his/her peers that pipes move the water to their home.
Now for the confusion. Perhaps it is in the way I word it. I explain that the water coming in through their pipes is used in the kitchen sink, the shower, and the bathroom sink. By now I should have learned to stop right there, but no, I continue. “The same water that comes out at your sink is the same water that is used to fill your toilet.” I can see when the confusion sets in, usually marked with wide open eyes, a look of bewilderment, and a scrunched up nose. I prepare for the inevitable question I know is to follow. “We drink toilet water?”
I mentally kick and curse myself for once again taking the students down this stream of thought. Will I ever learn? To avoid phone calls from angry parents telling me their sweet child is now drinking water from the toilet because I said it was OK, I quickly explain that while the water is clean, there is no guarantee the toilet is. Feeling rather confident and based on experience from having lived through teenage boys, I ask the students the last time they cleaned their toilet bowl. No one has claimed to have cleaned the bowl. Ever. I am also happy to say I have had no reports of students imitating the drinking habits of their dog.
One intuitively realizes most homes have only one pipe delivering water to the home. The system provides clean, treated drinking water for
all of your water needs. The water at your kitchen sink is the same as your bathroom sink as your clothes washer as your flushing toilet. No additional piping is installed to send a water of lesser quality to your toilet. Similarly, the water used to keep your grass alive has been treated to drinking water standards. A toilet and the grass do not need such high quality water, but it is less expensive to use treated water for these applications than to install completely new infrastructure.
Keeping in mind the water you use is all treated to the highest quality, identify ways you can use your prized water more efficiently. Ignoring a leaky toilet allows clean water to go to waste. Watering during the middle of the day, besides being against the outdoor watering schedule, allows a large percentage of the clean drinking water to be lost to evaporation.
An understanding of where our water comes from is key to valuing it. Knowing your drinking water source can influence how you interact with it. In Athens, when you see the Middle and North Oconee Rivers are exceptionally low, realize your drinking water supply is low. Think of ways to be more water efficient. See litter on the ground? Remember that carelessly tossed litter can easily blow into your drinking water supply. Pick up the litter you see, even if it isn’t your trash. It is your drinking water.
So, do we really drink toilet water? I can only speak for myself, but I don’t drink water from the toilet. I do drink the same water that is delivered to my toilet. Rather than confusing this realization into a reason to make a run to the store for bottled water, I choose to place a greater value on the water coming into my home. It is all of high quality, no matter how I chose to use it. I can drink from my kitchen sink. I can also drink the water from my bathroom sink or while standing with my mouth open in the shower. Technically, I could drink it from the toilet bowl. It is the same water, all good water, coming from one pipe. We are all one water.