a boots-on-the-ground view of the change that's a-foot

Posts Tagged ‘water’


Thursday, August 7th, 2008

by Tao Oliveto, Carrboro, NC

It all started with Big D. I saw him with his water truck, vaccum and rags in the lot behind our co-housing community. He was waxing a car and it was shining. I mean really shining. I felt a brief moment of clean car envy, but I shrugged it off and turned down the road on my bicycle, leaving our dirty little cars behind.

The next time I saw him wasn’t so simple. Big D was wiping down another car, inside and out and and it glittered – almost “happily”. My Pruis and Jerry’s Bio-bug sat nearby, dusty and dull. I took note of Big D’s system – no running hoses (his portable, non-potable water supply seemed to be used extra sparingly), no strong chemical smells, just some good old-fashioned hard work and elbow grease. I know, I’m the girl who thinks the need for clean cars is simply part of our American pathology, but this time, I just had to talk to Big D.

Donald and I had an enjoyable conversation – he smiled a lot as he explained that he wanted to make this his “retirement” job – work he enjoyed, that was much easier than the hauling and loading he had been doing for years. I watched him work on those other cars – not much of it looked easy to me – but I took his word for it. He took a look at my two cars gathering dirt and dust, gave me an offer I couldn’t refuse and I made an appointment for the next week.

Our cars still don’t get out much, but they look darn happy sitting in their spots with a gleam in their headlights. Big Donald explained the importance of an occasional waxing and I will admit that afterwards, my first generation Pruis looks years younger. The best part, of course, is that I’m participating in the loop of local economy and helping a hard-working person work a little less hard and enjoy a new line of work. In fact, I started daydreaming about how to make Donald the official detailer for the neighborhood…

I’m reminded that everything we do is best done on the middle path. I still don’t feel we need to wash and polish cars as often as we do, or justify using large amounts of potable water to do it. I think many of us can reach a point of driving less, car-sharing or kicking the car habit completely, and that that waterless car wash products will play a role in our future. I have managed to drive little and may even go totally car-free when possible. In the meantime, I’m glad I found Big D and I’m glad he can clean more and haul less.

Pee on Plants – your Liquid is Gold

Tuesday, June 3rd, 2008

I’m outing myself today. I’m Tao and I don’t pee in my toilet.

Ahh. I feel better already – and encouraged by the increasing acceptance of visibility (figuratively speaking) of people who distribute pee outdoors rather flushing it away along with gallons of purified water. With drought increasing in frequency and intensity around the world, people are saving water in every way and beginning to understand the logic of recycling this nutrient-rich “liquid gold” back into the soil.

For me, it all started in the NC drought of 2001, when the idea of flushing away gallons of water with a little clean urine suddenly seemed ridiculous. “Letting it mellow” just wasn’t cutting it anymore, especially when bathroom odor became an issue. I knew about composting toilets, which actually turn waste in rich soil supplements, but alas and alack, they are not yet implemented into the urban system. Instead, I piled some sawdust in my backyard and started my own odor-free, compost pile, which I distributed around my yard over time and refreshed occasionally with new dust. These days I simply dilute and pour around my trees and plants All it takes is a user-friendly pitcher kept in the loo and a stroll to the garden after use.

Emma Cooper of provides details about using urine in the garden. In diluted form, it nourishes all plant life and used straight-up, can effectively and safely eliminate weeds. As she puts it, “…it’s not a backward step, it’s space-age technology…” Read the complete article here.

Carol Steinfeld, writer, researcher, and resource-recycling specialist is the author of Liquid Gold, The Lore adn Logic of Using Urine to Grow Plants. Educated in ecological resource management solutions, she leads workshops worldwide and is projects director of Ecowaters, a nonprofit public information project. Mark your calendar – from the website:

Pee On Earth Day(s) announced

Pee On Earth Day, a day to bring one’s urine outside to nourish plants and save water used to flush toilets, will be June 21 in the northern hemisphere (Dec. 21 in the southern hemisphere). A free downloadable kit with tips for safe outdoor urine application will be available on the Liquid Gold web site soon!

Minneapolis – fountains of sustainability

Tuesday, May 27th, 2008

by Tao Oliveto, Carrboro, NC

It’s good to be back. It spent time with my family and explored what’s new in my big city – one of those making significant strides towards a sustainable future. I’ve heard that the Twin Cities have held a high green ranking for decades and the city lakes, free of motorized boats, are some of the cleanest in the country. A stroll around a few busy spots will show you some of the most litter-free places on the planet. I saw street sweepers in the neighborhoods, doing the seasonal clean-up of curbside debris to keep it from entering the sewer system and waterways, my former local co-op is now solar-powered and stocks a wide selection of local farm products and I saw a few urban vegetable gardens where lawns used to be. A newish downtown Farmer’s Market is thriving. The city lakes and parks, populated by an abundance of cyclists and pedestrians, have been made more friendly for wildlife with natual rain gardens and flowering trees and plants. Out in the ‘burbs, a new light rail system is in place.

Last week’s NY Times column, by Elizabeth Royte, (author of Bottlemania: How Water Went on Sale and Why We Bought It) also informed me that Minneapolis recently committed to spending $500,000 on drinking fountains that will be placed in areas of high foot and bicycle traffic. This is part of an effort (joined by San Francisco Mayor, Gavin Newsom), to reduce bottle use – and the huge carbon footprint that goes along with it.

Now there’s another (like electric cars and electric hand-dryers) retro-solution to both plastic and water waste issues! Remember when most places had drinking fountains? They used to be in markets and department stores and in all parks. No cups, bottles or trash cans required. And it stands to reason that they conserve water, too. I’ve long wondered what happened to what used to be available to all – a cool, clean drink without the cost, waste and inconvenience of carrying a bottle. Germ-phobics can’t claim this one – fountains are designed so that the treated water coming from a spigot is safe. I shudder to think the bottled water industry had anything to do with the demise of the fountain, but then, what gives? More importantly, how can we reclaim a sane way to keep all of us quenched? I’ll be looking into this one – stay tuned.

BTW, thanks for the comments and thoughts about my mom. She is enjoying the Spring weather just arriving in MN. On the day I was leaving, we found a bird’s nest with 3 small eggs, hidden in a potted plant outside her front door. It made all of us smile. Nature has a nice way of speaking.

There’s No Genie in that Bottle

Wednesday, April 2nd, 2008

by Tao Oliveto

More bad water news appeared recently – fear of pharmaceuticals. Trace levels of prescription drugs have been found in some water supplies. Strangely, we won’t hesitate in swallowing the latest quick-fix for pain-relief, depression, appetite control or menopause, but we panic when considering the possibility of ingesting our neighbor’s prescriptions by drinking water from the tap. So, it’s back on the bottle for many – sad news for the environment and for our overall health.

It’s still unknown exactly how much contamination our treatment plants can remove from our drinking water, but going back to the waste of bottled water obviously doesn’t solve the problem, especially since 40% of bottled water, including Aquafina and Dasani, is simply filtered tap water. Never mind that numerous studies have shown that bottled water is generally no safer or healthier than tap water. When fear leads, people follow and the bigger fear usually wins.

Moreover, the problems of drinking bottled water have not disappeared. Dioxins and other plastic-derived toxins can and do leach into water in plastic bottles. (I’ve previously posted details here and here.) Remember, we are also paying up to 10,000 times more to drink this bottled water than what is coming from the tap.

Environmental costs? Still with us. It takes more than 10 million barrels of oil – emissions included – to produce bottled water. Americans still throw away over 60 million plastics water bottles each day, each taking up to 1,000 years to break down – more pollution, more toxins getting back into our soil and water supply…the vicious cycle continues.

I stopped wanting to drink from the tap when I was overpowered by the smell of chlorine but it made more sense – economically and otherwise – to purchase a counter top filter to improve the quality of what I was drinking. I started with a basic, inexpensive version, but even since I’ve upgraded to a 3-filter system, it has paid for itself 10 times over by now if I compared it to buying even the cheapest bottled stuff. There are many models available. You can start here.

(There is no perfect solution to our water contamination at present, although a return to the sanity of composting human waste, rather than sending it directly into our water system would eliminate much of it.)

Filtered tap water is still the best option for our health and the environment.

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