Sorry for the long absence. My excuse? The author evacuated his residence because of the Monument Fire, still burning, in Northwestern California. Pete went to his daughter’s house, 150 miles away, and to the south. She (Kelly) promptly assigned me to more house painting (with Dad’s full approval). When the painting project was completed (and Grampa realizing how well-kept Kelly was keeping him, fully pampered, with all of his exotic/extravagant meal preferences, the author thought it a good time to take his leave.) (After first checking with a fellow tenant back in Hay Fork).
When first back home, things were still a little ‘dicey’ but not near as much ‘perceived’ danger as that which had driven the author out, the first time. Well, for awhile all went well. Then it didn’t. Because of high winds (blowing in the wrong direction) and topography, ‘The Monitor’ came marching back; and then, even further. A nervous Pete called his neighbor for the latest. Ginnie told him: “My son is the Fire Chief, Peter. When he tells me ‘It’s time’, I’ll tell you right away.”
Knowing he now had an ‘inside track’ Pete could relax, somewhat. For a while. But, as wild fires are known to do, they sometimes “Go Rogue” and behave badly, in new ways the fire fighters have no previous experience with.
Things were not ‘going our way’ for Hay Fork Valley. Eventually the fire blazed within a couple hundred feet from the author’s front door. No word from Ginnie? No worry. Pete also found a great comfort from hearing the overhead, daily, window-shaking, booming, ‘thud-thud-thud’ of big helicopters (full of water) and sometimes accompanied with the baritone roar of fixed-wing aqua-bombers’. A shame Pete wasn’t a photographer. I counted rivets.
Things are now resembling ‘normal’, again. Two days of light rains have produced deep blue skies with silver, puffy clouds. All evacuation orders regarding my neighborhood have been rescinded. The old plumber during this stressful time had been thinkin’ about ‘making the best of’ his predicament: Was there a lesson in ‘there’ that would benefit others? Well, Pete d i d see a very important, modern I i f e s t y l e “pillar” possibly threatened in the near future. He thought it worth taking a closer look and share a concern that appears to be only on the author’s radar.
More Straight Poop: The Cruelest Inconvenience
Pete has focused in this post on the threat to what he sees as the Number One ‘pillar’ of our ‘take-for-granted’ hygienic lifestyle (flushing toilets) and the odds that through continuing weather disasters (drought, hurricanes, tornado’s, wild fires, ice storms, cyber war?, (not to mention earthquakes) that we might be looking to the i n c o n c e i v a b l e: a time in the near future when we can no longer take them for granted?
Our modern sanitary waste systems have two (2) requisites: copious water supply and electrical power (under our full control). Several natural disasters of late have shown us how quickly we can lose control. The entire state of Texas found itself with electrical grid failure in the midst of freezing temps. Plus, water systems frozen solid. Also, an alarming number of towns and cities in the drought stricken west are seeing their wells and reservoirs go dry. Hurricanes and tornados are capable of ripping up and destroying expensive infrastructure (like waste treatment plants). This is not an out-of-the-question possibility in some of the more historically trashed (‘prone’) States. Texas to New York. The biggest threat Pete sees is a cyber attack by a Vladimir Putin or wanna-be; but of these, any could spell trouble for convenient pooping, the benchmark of American hygiene.
Toilets flush when they are supplied with water via electrical energy (think pumps and motors). What are the odds we are going to be faced in the near future with a situation that temporarily renders our toilets ‘off line’? Yes, you can flush a toilet with a bucket IF your water supply remains intact. No water supply: deep doo-doo. Sending expensive bottled water down will not be a viable option as Texans discovered.
Just as inhabitants of actively seismic communities are liable to have in place a developed ‘10 Day Plan’ of necessary emergency stores for surviving ‘The Big One’, or a once-in-a-hundred-storm, the author believes the era when we should have such plans for the possible interruption of waste treatment facilities is here, now. As mentioned the biggest threat is cyber but climate change is closing in on the gap, and regardless of the cause, the same preparedness routine will help you tremendously see yourself through a limited period of inconvenience.
Humans have always chosen water (when possible) to rid themselves of their biological wastes. Why? Water performs a lot of work.*
*The author was a terrible munchkin. As an eight year old at his family’s Trinity River placer mine he and his older brother Mickey (10) would squat down in swift water, three hundred feet upstream of the placid emerald pool his little sister and two little brothers were swimming and wading in and ‘sank submarines.’ After three to five minutes there’d be a screaming.
Thanks to its weight and thanks to gravity we humans have taken advantage of water since day one. When we have not this functioning arrangement, something/someone else’s labor has to do it for us. We’ve all seen or heard about a septic service contractor’s truck with a sign: “It May Be Shit To You…But It’s My Bread And Butter.” That sewage is being moved not by water but by diesel and rubber, and very expensively. That is not an economical model for city and metropolis. The amount (volume) of waste involving a city adds up fast. Editor Mindy Weisberger at Live Science reminds us that the average adult produces almost a pound (14 ounces) of poop a day. In fact almost 90 percent of treated sewage is returned directly to an ocean, lake or river. If all of a sudden (for any reason) you had to endure a week or more with no flush toilet, how would y o u collect, store and safely dispose of your waste? You’ve never been asked to figure that out. We take for granted SO much. The author here wants to share some of his Straight Poop (photo) recommendations, for answering that question.
Y’all a Family of One?…How Many?
Are you a family with young children? If so there’s more reason for a plan. How would the ‘of-late potty trained’ deal with an interruption (no matter how temporarily) of ‘the only means they know’? A good many teenagers a n d adults might also find themselves at a very uncomfortable disadvantage, for any number of psychological reasons. Ask any therapist/psychologist just how prevalent are the public’s concerns and ‘hang-up’s’ about bodily functions, e s p e c I a l l y pooping. Can you recall the least preferable choices women list for places to perform their toilet: restaurants, malls and bars. How many shops have signs posted: No Public Restrooms? How many times have you ever bought gas on a trip because you wanted their key to their restroom?
What if y o u had to say to your household: “I’m sorry family, but the toilets will be out of commission for what looks like to be a little while. But don’t concern yourselves, I got you 5-gallon buckets.” (Photo 1, below) You wouldn’t be very popular. Pete the Plumber though thinks everyone “past a certain age” should be schooled in an emergency, basic ‘poop drill’. When/if that terrible day or weeks of “no flush toilets until further notice” arrives, those who prepare will face far less stress and anxiety if/when such actions are called for. As our President would say: “It’s a BFD! Nothing would demoralize a major big city, or the Nation, more than an interruption of a citizenry’s e s t a b l i s h e d routine. Regardless of cause. It’s also a cataclysm on few radars…
The author would like to show you some examples of ‘Get By’ solutions to your pooping needs if/when you are ever faced with the Cruelest Inconvenience.
Photo’s 1 through 6 are means, from crudest to kindest, that are available to substitute for a temporary loss of flush toilets. What to do with your poop is also of grave concern. In the event of a major city or metro area ever suffering loss of treatment facility operations, Public Safety agencies will have to establish “drop-off’ locations and hopefully for no longer than necessary we will once again smell a signature aroma of human establishment (in the U.S.) not detected for two hundred years or more.
For those fortunate to have a basement or back yard the author highly suggests including an inexpensive privacy tent. That is especially important for children. (Photo 7)
Power To The Pee-ple
Now, an announcement about something new (manufactured) that will be very helpful to the world. Pete titled this shout-out: Power To The Pee-ple.
In an upstream blog article, maybe a year or two ago, the author introduced his readers to MFC’s (microbial fuel cells). In that article Pete explored the possible application of MFC equipment at each individual living unit to treat total amounts of liquid and solid wastes, and generate electricity simultaneously. No. Unfortunately we’re ‘not there yet’. However, two smart researchers led by Dr. Mirella Di Lorenzo (Photo 8) have given us a functioning pee (urine) powered MFC. And, a Japanese firm (Photo 9) is marketing the first commercial Pee Batteries. It’s a baby first step, but nonetheless a forward step.
The following links are to articles the author found very informative yet still a joy to read:
1) Almost half a million U.S. households lack indoor plumbing: “The conditions are inhumane” - The Guardian
2) Pee Power! | University of Bath – 50th Anniversary
3) Researchers turn urine into a sustainable power source for powering electronic devices
4) Reinventing the Toilet | Global Grand Challenges
5) Smaller, Cheaper Microbial Fuel Cells Turn Urine into Electricity
A Few Poop Facts
Well, with the posting of this blog, PtP gets time away on a mega sewing project which will be full joy. Sometime in the next article (which deals with peeing) will/maybe see if Pete has anything new to add. (Sorta like the old waiting-for-baby clips of filmdom past).
In Pete’s bailiwick fall has arrived. The ‘nip’ is now most of the day. It always feels good after a long absence. For homeowners it’s a ‘last chance’ not to be at chance. Fall/winter weather-prep saves dollars, and anguish.
Well Dear Readers,
Yours truly does not expect to be gifted any ‘plumbing industry’ inside-knowledge of possible new products in the pipeline, anytime soon. But if he spies something worth your reading time he’ll snag it and forward it.
Oh How Blessed to be retired at the pinnacle of this country’s prominence. Everything is working, to a point. Later generations will never know the doctor/patient ratio’s the author has appreciated and enjoyed. He does want to have some surgical improvements performed but the Pandemic has rendered moot, for now, those hopes. Not that he is a couch potato, he still walks two miles to village, daily, for meal prep and mail.
Until something pops up, Pete hopes your toilet’s fill and flush valves are amply served by copious amounts of safe water.
Peter Hemp is a San Francisco East Bay residential plumber and plumbing author and former R & D steam vehicle plumber. His hobbies are ocean kayaking and touring the Left Coast by bicycle.
All Rights Reserved