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Flushing away the budget deficit

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. 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 to 8,300 gallons a day from 42,000 gallons a day.
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 be released from a lockdown. Traditional toilets give inmates the opportunity to drain the bowl, build a fire, and have a little barbeque. 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.
Another innovative flush solution, vacuum plumbing, involves an interface valve that blocks the plumbing that traditional systems provide inmates to exchange and flush away contraband. Vacuum plumbing circumvents these traditional avenues so drugs can’t be exchanged between cells via plumbing.
If prison officials are planning a sweep through cells, they can shut off the electronic flushers beforehand, disabling negligent flushing.
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.
Just as the deficit is a bipartisan problem, flushing away our fiscal misery can be a bipartisan answer. Investing in this sort of green technology that saves money in the long run is a level-headed, forward-looking solution.
Veronica Czastkiewicz is Ronald Reagan Fellow at the Goldwater Institute, www.goldwaterinstitute.org.

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