New toilets keep lid on water use, but building owners balk

Water protection is in the minds of the environment. That’s why today they think a lot about toilets, which are among the worst water guzzlers in commercial buildings.

Since January 1994, all toilets sold in California must consume less than 1.6 gallons of water per flush. But building owners are not required to replace existing toilets that consume as much as 5 gallons per flush.

Conservation, water treatment, and government agencies are promoting changeover by promoting conservation awareness – and offering builders who switch to super-low-flow models a reward of $ 75.

But owners of commercial real estate have not hurried to swear allegiance to the new thrones.

“We have not received the response we want from the commercial real estate industry,” said Elaine Leung, San Jose Water Protection Assistant.

Problems with replacement costs and performance keep builders from jumping onto the nature reserve.

“The cost of replacing a toilet is much higher than the discount the city offers,” said Randy Walters, chief engineer of the San Jose River Park Tower, run by the Galbreath Co.

“There’s not just the cost of the toilet, there’s the cost of labor and spare parts, and every toilet can cost as much as $ 200,” Walters said.

“What we’ve done, rather than completely replacing toilets, is retrofitting the toilets that are installed to reach the low 3.6 gallon flow,” he said.


Incorrect use of retrofit equipment can actually increase the amount of water for each flush.

“The urinal and toilet retrofit kits look almost identical,” Walters said. “If you use a toilet retrofit kit on a urinal, it can consume up to 3 gallons per flush instead of 1 gallon or less.”

In addition to complaints about replacement costs, some users claim that ultra-low flow toilets are louder or that they need two flushes to empty completely, according to Bob Day, Customer Service Manager at San Jose Water Co.

“Super low-flow toilets need to have water adjusted properly,” said Mr. Day. “In older toilets, when the water level was set too low, the toilet still worked, and the newly built toilets require the exact water level to achieve acceptable flushing.”

The first 3.6-gallon low-flow toilets appeared after the 1978 drought. Their poor performance has caused users to look awkward on the 1.6-gallon super-low-flow models, although they actually get better as the originals performance, Mr. Tag said.

“The 3.6-gallon models were created by placing a smaller tank on existing toilets,” he said. “The 1.6-gallon models have been completely redesigned to work efficiently with less water.”

There are urgent environmental concerns to reduce the flow of purified wastewater that reaches San Francisco Bay from all directions, including the San Jose area.

Salt marshes are California’s fastest dwindling habitat, and excessive streams of purified sewage transform saltwater marshland brackish marshes.

Less than 10 percent of the state’s saltwater habitat remains intact.

Two endangered species – the salt marsh harvest mouse and the bobbin rail – live in the salt marshes of the bay.

In addition to the Environmental Mandate, many agencies are working to comply with the guidelines of the San Francisco Regional Water Quality Control Board. The South Bay is the responsibility of the board.

The water treatment plant in San Jose came under fire in the early 1990s because it had converted the local saltwater sump into freshwater sump.

The chamber estimated that the sewage effluent of the plant would have to be reduced to 120 million gallons per day to maintain the saltwater sump. Although the city has reduced the amount of treated water flowing into the cove, strong growth in industry and population has kept the average level at 134 million gallons.


The Board, a state-appointed monitoring group, has extended the deadline by six months to develop a plan to limit the flow of treated water.

Ms. Leung estimated that every traditional low-flow toilet that consumes 3.6 gallons per flush consumes an average of 48 gallons of water per day in a commercial building. Mr. Walters estimated that 40 percent of the River Park Tower’s water and waste bill can be attributed to toilets.

Low-flow commercial toilet programs have not received as much attention as residential buildings because commercial real estate produces only 34 percent of local wastewater.

From July, the commercial property managers will have access to a voucher program with which the discount money can be made available in advance.

Ms. Leung said many more would use the voucher system because it would take much less paperwork and the organizations would not have to pay for the restrooms and then wait for the discounts.

Lynda Bell Sereno is a freelance writer based in San Jose.

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