Flushing away the state's deficit

Posted on February 13, 2008 | Type: In the News | Author: Veronica Czastkiewicz
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With Arizona's budget deficit approaching $1 billion, policy makers are looking for relief from Arizona's fiscal woes. Wouldn't it be nice if lawmakers could just flush fiscal problems away?

 Turns out technology exists that might let them do just that, at least a little bit. By installing electronic flush devices in state prisons, Arizona lawmakers could flush part of our spending on correctional facilities down the drain.

Investing in such technology would be costly at first, but would secure a steady flow of savings later on. Traditional flush toilets use an average of 3.5 gallons per flush. But electronic vacuum plumbing systems use as little as half a gallon per flush. With each unit of water costing an average of $2, this could result in significant savings on prison water bills.

In one state prison in California, electronic flush devices reduced the amount of wastewater generated by 120 inmates from 42,000 gallons a day to 8,300.

At the end of October 2007, Arizona's prisons housed 37,636 inmates. If electronic flush devices reduced water waste in Arizona like they did in the California prison, taxpayers could see roughly an 80 percent decrease in sewage and, with the rising cost of water, up to a potential $1 million reduction in water costs. With water scarce in the Arizona desert, these savings would benefit taxpayer pocketbooks and the environment alike.

Water bills aside, this innovative technology could help with more than just fiscal savings. There are dozens of reasons why investing in an electronic flushing system would help both Arizona's prisons and law-abiding citizens.

 For most of us, toilets have one purpose. In prisons, however, toilets are used as tools for communication, relieving boredom, disposing of drugs, and even creating swimming pools.

Prisoners use toilets to warn others of inspections and changing guard shifts. They will stuff sheets into the toilets and flush repeatedly to flood their cells and to be released from a lock down. Traditional toilets give inmates the opportunity to drain the bowl, build a fire, and have a little barbecue. Really, there is no limit to the ways in which a toilet can be used if you have the kind of time on your hands that inmates do.

 Some inmates flush their toilets 100 times a day, according to the Sacramento Bee. This wasteful practice could be reduced dramatically if automatic flush devices were installed.

David Woodworth, a specialist at Sloan Valve Co., a company that provides many prisons throughout the United States with the so-called flush-o-meters, says that including a random time-generated delay would circumvent irresponsible flushing. A control box could limit the amount of flushes an inmate is permitted in a minute or hour, or controls could take into account strings of toilets so that inmates couldn't use their toilets to communicate.

Electronic flushing devices save water, prevent devious behavior, and help keep prison guards safe. They could also save taxpayers a chunk of change. Investing in flush control for our prisons could literally help keep our money from going down the drain.

Veronica Czastkiewicz is a Ronald Reagan fellow at the Goldwater Institute, a Valley-based private nonprofit organization dedicated to protecting and expanding economic freedom, constitutional liberty and educational opportunity.

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