Who has the best bathroom in the Neponset River Watershed? Or at least the most water-efficient public restroom? And, why does a river protection group even care about bathrooms, anyway?
With more than 160,000 people getting some or all of their drinking water from wells connected to the Neponset River or one of its tributaries, what happens in bathrooms matters a lot to the river. The water that many of us use, both indoors and out, is almost always diverted from a river, or at the very least gets intercepted on its way to recharging a river.
In most Neponset communities, the water that gets diverted ultimately is lost to evaporation (when it is sprayed on someone’s lawn) or lost to one of several regional sewer systems that discharge outside the watershed. Because of this, flows in the river, particularly in the summer, are quite a bit lower than they would be under natural conditions, and that’s bad news for fish, wildlife, recreation, and the sustainability of our drinking water supplies. It’s also why the Watershed Association spends so much time working with communities, residents, businesses and kids to promote better water-use efficiency.
Last night, we took our annual Board of Directors field trip, and caravaned to several sites around the watershed. One of these was the new Walpole Public Library. We went there to give the Board a first-hand look at a very nice rain garden that was part of the library project, and to look at several other existing parking lots nearby, where Association staff have been working with the Town to help design measures that would clean up polluted runoff flowing into Spring Brook.
Two minutes before the library was set to close, I dashed in to use the restroom, and was pleased to find that Walpole had put as much thought into the environmental impact of their bathrooms as went into the rest of the building. The bathroom faucets have the 0.5 gallon-per-minute faucet aerators that have been required in commercial bathrooms by the plumbing code for almost 20 years, but which seldom actually are installed. For some reason, this detail of the plumbing code usually is not enforced.
Taking things a step further (this was the men’s room after all), they had waterless urinals. These urinals not only save a tremendous amount of water (and don’t smell) but they are cheaper to install because they don’t need to have water piped to them. They have been around for a while, and you see them around the watershed in places like IKEA in Stoughton and LL Bean at Legacy Place in Dedham (for those who don’t want to go fully waterless, there are also quart-flush and pint-flush urinals).
But what really put the Walpole Library over the top in my book was the fact that it also uses high-efficiency toilets that consume only 1.1 gallons per flush rather than the usual 1.6 gallons per flush. While high-efficiency toilets also have been around for a while, it is still unusual to see “flushometer”-style toilets that meet this high standard (a flushometer toilet is the type with the big chrome valve that you usually see in commercial bathrooms).
For a touch of extra credit, they used so-called “single-flush” type toilets, where the only available choice is to use the water-saving flush. There are a number of places in the watershed where you will see “dual-flush” flushometer toilets with green handles that give you a choice between a water-saving 1.1-gallon short-flush (lever up) and a standard 1.6-gallon full-flush (level down). While these dual-flush models (kudos to LL Bean, again, for having these) are an improvement over a standard toilet, most “patrons” tend to activate the full-flush rather than the short-flush, thus reducing the water-saving benefits. Walpole is the only place in the watershed where I have seen these single-flush high-efficiency flushometer toilets installed.
It’s not hard to make a public restroom water-efficient; there are only three things to remember: aerators, toilets, and urinals. It also is not expensive to get water conservation right, as all these fixtures are available at the same or lower installed prices than conventional fixtures (and, of course, the water bill is substantially lower too). But amazingly, the new Walpole Public Library is the only place that I know of where all three of these simple features have been built into the same restroom. Kudos to Walpole and the Library Trustees for getting all these elements right, not to mention the rain garden, the green roof, the absence of a lawn irrigation system (as far as I could tell) and the fact that the building is both beautiful, welcoming, and LEED-certified at the gold level.
In fact, there is only one men’s room in the Neponset Watershed that I know of that is more efficient, and that’s at the offices of the Dedham-Westwood Water District where they have 0.5-gallon-per-minute faucet aerators, a waterless urinal, and a Niagara Stealth single-flush toilet that uses just 0.8 gallons per flush, but amazingly still gets the job done. The Stealth, however, is a residential style toilet rather than a flushometer, and the District’s restroom isn’t really open to the public. So the prize still goes to the Walpole Public Library.
For the record, here at the Watershed Association in our unisex bathroom, we have a 0.5-gallon-per-minute faucet aerator, and a super-powerful 1.1-gallon per flush Kohler Highline single-flush pressure-assist toilet that generously was donated by Kohler a few years back. Sadly (for the water conservation nerds among us), we have no urinal.
But maybe the problem is that I just don’t go to enough bathrooms. Where have you seen high-efficiency toilets, urinals and aerators used in a public restroom in the Neponset Watershed? Let’s give those building owners some credit!
Ian Cooke, Executive Director, August 21, 2013