Alexa Nicolas | Taking a poop at Penn

The Fine Print | To conserve water, we need to reconsider where we defecate

· October 4, 2012, 1:37 am

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Alexa Nicolas
The Fine Print

Why is the western world content to defecate into 1.6 gallons of fresh water at every call of nature?
I don’t care if you don’t believe in global warming. The fact is we’re wasting precious resources. So let’s explore some fecal matters.

When we think of water scarcity, we rarely think of home. Instead, images of Middle Eastern deserts — where access to the Jordan River is a serious political problem — come to mind.

An internet meme that went viral over the summer perfectly encapsulated this mentality. It featured a third-world child looking to a visiting westerner and remarking, “So you’re telling me you poop into perfectly clean water?”

Increasingly, conservation success stories like those found in eco-villages in Senegal are drawing Western tourists (such as my sister) who want to witness innovative infrastructure that improves traditional villages’ access to clean water.

These tales, however, sound distant and inapplicable to Ivy League living.

We need to remember that water is not an issue confined to exotic locations.

This summer, droughts across the United States affected an array of crops from corn to Christmas trees. Over half of the contiguous U.S. experienced at least moderate drought conditions, according to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration.

Perhaps cities will look to the likes of San Antonio, Texas, which has introduced programs for water conservation. Among the many programs, the city is giving out water-efficient toilets for free. As a result, San Antonio has been able to grow without increasing its water consumption.

While the extent of Philadelphia’s water problem may be that the water doesn’t taste as good as in New York, Philadelphia has experienced a handful of serious droughts, the most recent being in the 1960s.

Philadelphia currently faces serious storms that flood the sewage system and bog down water treatment facilities.

Penn, in compliance with the Philadelphia Water Department, has made commendable efforts to capture stormwater to reduce runoff. Trees across campus, pervious pavement on Locust Walk as well as green roofs on top of Huntsman Hall and Kings Court/English House have made Penn a truly sustainable campus that can soak up whatever rain October seems to be weathering.

Although Penn has one of the country’s most green campuses, we should continue to set an example by continuing to reduce our environmental footprint. Since toilet water makes up over a quarter of the water we use in our homes each day, we need to push Penn to rethink what goes down the drain.

In many ways, Penn is on the right track. The Women’s Center captures stormwater in a tank in the basement and uses it in toilets and Morris Arboretum similarly savors its stormwater.

When designing the new college house on Hill Field, Penn should aim to install sustainable plumbing that utilizes stormwater and further reduces the amount of water per flush.

While many newly renovated buildings on campus follow Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design standard, we should press Penn to revamp older landmarks on campus to comply with sustainable standards.

As we move further into a polluted future, access to clean water is an important issue we must be mindful of.

To me, this issue is solidified through a new program by the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation called “Reinvent the Toilet.” The Foundation has invested millions of dollars in toilet technology that doesn’t use water or create sewage.

Penn has committed to reducing greenhouse gas emissions. As a community, we also need to commit to conserving water. We have Power Down Challenges to limit our use of electricity.

Although the “Year of Water” is over, we must continue to discuss the resource.

It’s time for us to address the global water issues that affect our every day lives. We should start by talking about where we defecate and how it affects our world.

Alexa Nicolas, a former 34th Street editor, is a College senior from New York, N.Y. Her email address is anicolas@sas.upenn.edu “The Fine Print” appears every other Tuesday. Follow her @____Alexa___

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