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Circling the drain

New brewery finds it's a pisser to go waterless


County bureaucrats have issues with this urinal. - ANTHONY LANE
  • Anthony Lane
  • County bureaucrats have issues with this urinal.

The spent grains from beer made at Trinity Brewing Co. are used to feed a local farmer's pigs, as are food scraps from the kitchen. The owners are trying to compost and use other enviro-friendly measures.

"We're committed to social consciousness," says co-owner Todd Walton. "Our goal is to be zero-waste."

Certain wastes, however, go hand-in-hand with beer consumption. To cut water use tied to flushing those wastes away, Walton and Jason Yester, his business partner, installed waterless urinals in both of the brewery's unisex bathrooms before opening Trinity in August.

And then Walton and Yester encountered El Paso County building codes.

"The 2003 code that we are presently enforcing does not recognize a waterless urinal standard," says Jim Vernon, chief plumbing/mechanical inspector for the Pikes Peak Regional Building Department.

What's more, Vernon says his "personal opinion is that they are not very sanitary."

Sanitary or not, the urinals are boldly displayed at governmental buildings across the region, including Colorado Springs City Hall, the airport and get this the Regional Building Department.

Turns out waterless urinals, though not officially approved, can be installed as "replacement fixtures" or via a variance from building officials. That's bureaucracy for you.

For Walton and Yester, the ordeal started when building inspectors cited the urinals in denying them a certificate of occupancy before opening. They got a temporary certificate instead, then went to the region's mechanical committee for a variance.

The committee said no.

So to get their permanent certificate, Walton and Yester removed the urinals from the bathrooms. At the request of one inspector, they went so far as to remove their wall brackets. Signs politely asked men to raise seats on nearby toilets.

Then, with their permanent certificate in hand, Walton and Yester put the urinals, made by Sloan Valve Co., right back on the walls as replacements.

In certain circles, debate continues over the technology. John Watson, Sloan's director of technical services, points out that studies have shown they are more sanitary than the alternatives.

"Water is a medium for bacteria," he says.

Sloan's urinals work by filtering urine through a liquid barrier of mineral oil that floats just out of view, under the bowl. The barrier restrains odors, and gravity draws the liquids down the sewage system.

If 200,000 Colorado Springs men used waterless urinals for most of their daily bathroom needs, the water savings would translate to nearly 300 million gallons a year, enough to fill about 13,000 backyard swimming pools.

Arizona and other arid states encourage waterless urinals, and Colorado Springs Utilities offered rebates in recent years for their installation. Scott Winter, Utilities' senior water conservation specialist, says the rebate came to around $100, but was only used 16 times over two years. He explains that a new incentive plan is in the works for waterless and other low-flow toilets.

Winter suggests building codes do not always keep up with technology, and he says waterless urinals work well when maintained properly.

"For new construction, I think they are a great way to go," he says.

Vernon disagrees, suggesting there's more promise in low-flow urinals that use as little as a pint of water per flush. Waterless urinals at the Regional Building Department, he claims, tend to get kind of smelly.

"People are finding out," he says, "they are not the greatest things since sliced bread."

Anthony Lane

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