Tracking Indoor Plumbing
Drinking. Cooking. Bathing. Flushing. Washing. These are what we expect to satisfy when we open the tap.
The Washington Post recently ran a story on the plight of Americans living without indoor plumbing. In it, they discussed the Census Bureau’s use of the American Community Survey that among other things measures the number of households that have, and use, indoor plumbing, especially toilets.
While discussion of indoor plumbing might be viewed as a great topic for the local comedy improv, and the target of ridicule by headline grabbing politicians who seem confused over the role hygiene plays in disease prevention, the concept that flush toilets are a good thing is overwhelmingly accepted by advanced cultures and societies.
For Those Without, Flush Toilets Aren’t A Joke
Surprisingly, there are a large number of critics who view the collection of such information as an invasion of privacy. Indoor plumbing is defined by the ACS as having a, “toilet, shower or tub, and/or running water.” While the overwhelming majority of Americans go about their daily lives without giving it a thought, it turns out that over 1.6 million of our citizens lack some or all of these basics.
As Texans, it came as a bit of a shock to discover that counties along our own Rio Grande have a high rate of unplumbed homes, while it’s estimated that over 12,000 Alaskans are without running water – some voluntarily, most without a choice.
Flush toilets date back to the island of Crete, nearly 1,000 years before ancient Greeks installed indoor baths. In the United States indoor plumbing is still a fairly recent concept. According to the article, as recently as 1950 25% of homes depended on outhouses instead of flush toilets for waste management.
Certainly, not every habitable structure needs an indoor toilet, or even plumbing for that matter. Deer camp, hiking shelters, and duck shacks come to mind. But for homes inhabited on a regular basis, there’s both a need and an obligation to make indoor plumbing part of the infrastructure.
Environmental Problems Appearing In Urban Areas
Problems arise for a variety of reasons. In remote areas, municipal water supplies or sewage treatment plants are almost certainly nonexistent. For those communities well water and sanitary sewage disposal (septic) provide the most common solution.
The increasing availability of composting toilets in a growing range of styles, finishes, and effectiveness for either year round or occasional use provides additional options. On the other hand, there are an increasing number of communities, particularly in drought stricken California and the Southwest, that are seeing both private and municipal well sources run dry.
Other communities and households have seen their water supplies impacted by the effects of increasingly heavy demands by agriculture and industry, including continuing questions over how fracking affects water tables.
With over $400 billion spent annually just by the federal government on national, state, and local projects based on ACS data, accurate, timely information is essential.