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May 2020
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A tragedy in one act: Money down the toilet bowl

By Angela Reinhardt, staff writer

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Toilets are ubiquitous. I’ve got one. You’ve got one. I would dare say your friends all have one.

They come in different shapes and styles to match our endless array of personalities. Some are utilitarian and perpetually grimy, taking a wholly unapologetic stance about their boorish purpose; others smell like sage and citrus potpourri, embellished with gold and shaped to look like a delicate seashell or flower; and yet others are modern, sleek and technologically advanced, with automated flushers and heated seats.

But when it comes right down to it, our porcelain pedestals all serve the same smelly purpose, and function more or less in the same way.

You flush, a little flap is pulled up by a chain and the tank drains into the bowl, sending the water (and all that other stuff) swirling down to the black abyss, out of our thoughts and en route to a sewage treatment facility somewhere or a septic tank in our own backyard.

The flap then closes and the tank dutifully fills back up for the next sitting.

But despite toilets being as common as, well, muck, I’m going to go out on a limb and say that I know something more horrifying, something more awfully tragic about them than most people.

In an unfortunate turn of events in my own life, I have recently learned that in one month’s time, give or take a week, a leaky john can waste 160,000 gallons of water.

On first listen it sounds impossible, on par with suggesting that a camel did, in fact, pass through the eye of a needle, or that the Statue of Liberty shook the dirt off its feet and strolled away.

At first, I didn’t believe it either when my husband told me all those gallons flowed down the modest, unimposing commode in a rental property we own and that our water bill would be $1,200.

To put that staggering figure into perspective, 160,000 gallons is more water than the rainforest exhibit at Ripley’s Aquarium in Gatlinburg. It’s eight, in-ground home swimming pools and over 50,000 regular flushes with an older model toilet.

Our rental house is an older model, built around 1950, and the house has had costly leaks in the past because of bursting pipes, but never more than a few hundred dollars.

As landlords, we didn’t know the toilet was defunct until it was too late. We don’t live in the home and never go inside. Our tenant didn’t realize the gravity of leaving the commode hissing day in and day out, so he didn’t mention it.

Every five years the water department does offer write-offs for just such occasions. We had unfortunately used ours up four years ago.

After the reality of the situation began to sink in, I childishly began to daydream of being allowed to return the water to the department little by little from our own home’s well (1,000 gallons here, 2,000 gallons there) for the next decade.

I decided not to ask.

After speaking with a very nice and empathetic lady at the water department, we found our only option is to appear before the water board and request that our whale of a bill be split into a couple of payments.

In the meantime, in hopes of keeping others from going through the same swirling stinking mess, I thought a neighborly warning the least I could do.

Toilets may seem like unobtrusive members of the family, quietly tucked away in the corner, but if you neglect them, you may end up wasting more water, money and time than you could ever imagine possible.

Happy flushing.