After chasing problems in my new home for over 6 months, I finally broke down and called a plumber to come in and upgrade the commode in each bathroom. He said he'd been flooded with calls, excuse the pun, but that he would put me on his schedule.
When he finally got around to changing the fixtures (toilets), we got to talking about "low flush" toilets and the lunatics who came up with the idea. He told me that the low flush (1.6 gallons or less per flush) toilet was the brainchild of our government. It seems that a few of our environmentally conscious congressmen thought that we were using too much clean water to wash away our waste. By reducing our water usage by 40% or more, they felt we could reduce both the demand for clean water and the burden on the waste treatment facilities. While a seemingly good objective, it flies contrary to actual practice—I guess that's why the idea had to come from our government. Keep in mind the first thing a waste treatment facility does with this waste is ADD WATER. What were they thinking?
| HEAD WORK Determine the approximate power required to pump 10 cfs of fresh water (62.4 lb/ft³) through a six-inch I.D. pipe to a waste treatment facility 800 ft above the level of a reservoir containing the water.
A) 850 hp
B) 890 hp
C) 910 hp
D) 950 hp
E) 975 hp
See answer below. Source: Adapted from The Fundamentals of Engineering Examination, Eugene L. Boronow, Prentice Hall Press, 1986.
Application of physics to this problem clearly shows that with less water, solid waste is more likely to sink to the bottom of the treatment ponds. Only clean water would be left on top, which could be returned to our lakes and oceans. The government acted in the correct manner—assuming their physics would hold water.
The problem is, waste treatment is not a simple process of separating the solids from the water. If it were, we could use low-cost settling ponds instead of complex and costly processing plants. But I guess that if our dyspeptic government representatives were a little more knowledgeable in physics and engineering, then they wouldn't be stuck making a living as government employees.
Now that the low flush commode has been around for several years, I'm sure that everyone is aware of its biggest drawback: insufficient water flow to completely whisk away the contents of the bowl. The discerning homeowner needs to double flush, and the waste treatment facility still needs to add water to process the waste. It appears that the government has finally figured out how to balance the budget, now it simply needs to find out how to balance a water flow problem.
Fortunately, we have multiple problems that can be solved with a single, effective solution. The problems are:
The low flow toilet doesn't do its job because there's too little water.
I propose that we apply for a government grant to engineer a method for channeling all this excess water and use it to improve the operation of the no-flush commode.
The only questions I have now: "Are the toilets in Congress the low flow type and could that be the real reason that we have gridlock?"
This report is one of a series of occasional columns exploring the not-altogether serious side of engineering by Ken Foote, a mechanical engineer at GDLS. You can reach Ken at firstname.lastname@example.org or email your comments to us at email@example.com.
Headwork answer: D