Yesterday I visited the new flush-vault restroom the National Park Service had installed at its Mori Point park in Pacifica. Flush-vault restrooms, for those who are new to this blog, are a breakthrough in park sanitation technology. They combine the economy of traditional vault potties without the stink; they contain flush toilets and sinks for handwashing, just like an expensive restroom, but at a tenth of the cost. The new restroom stood in a pretty cove near the park entrance. Some landscaping, painting, and parking lot improvements were in progress.
National Park Service program manager Richard De La O was on hand, along with Ken Earlywine, inventor of the technology and co-owner of GreenFlush Technologies of Vancouver WA, which designs and installs the units. Richard explained that the Park Service chose the GreenFlush unit in part because this site was near to residences, and there was concern that the inevitable stink of conventional vault potties would upset the neighbors. Disability compliance was also a key concern. Richard, an accessibility specialist, pointed out that the porta-potties that had previously served the site were in violation of disability law. Even though the chamber was large enough, the doors were not self-closing, making it very difficult for people in wheelchairs to use them. The GreenFlush units also cost “not that much more” than stinky vault toilets.
The new Pacifica unit showed off some of the flexibility of the GreenFlush design. Unlike the unit in Lathrop, which I reviewed earlier, this unit has an internal freshwater tank for the handwashing sink. Used handwashing water is then recycled for flushing the toilet. A solar panel on the roof feeds a twelve-volt battery that supplies power for the flushing mechanism and the pumps. This unit is equipped with stainless steel fixtures throughout — toilet, sink, and waterless urinal. Ken explained that the stainless fixtures and the freshwater storage tank raised the price of this unit into the $60,000 range. That’s still less than one tenth of the single unit the Berkeley Parks Department is planning to install for the windsurfers in the Marina.
Richard said that the National Park Service is projecting installation of two additional GreenFlush units in the Marin Headlands area of the Golden Gate National Recreation Area. Ken told me that demand for the GreenFlush units is starting to take off. It’s currently a family-run business, with Ken as the inventor, designer and project manager, and his two sons partnering in business and execution.
Ken, an engineer with a thirty-year career in the National Park Service, the Forest Service, and the Army Corps of Engineers, estimates that the conventional restroom uses 1695 gallons of water and produces 1783 gallons of waste water for every 1,000 uses. GreenFlush restrooms use 160 gallon of water and produce 248 gallons of waste water for every 1,000 uses.
The GreenFlush unit at the dog park in Lathrop, Ken reported, was pumped out for the first time eight months after its installation. That’s about twice of the estimated interval between pumpings. He estimates that the Pacifica unit will need service a bit more frequently because its waste vault is smaller than the Lathrop unit.
Why do I care about park restrooms? Because Berkeley’s largest and most scenic park, Cesar Chavez, is marred by the presence of porta-potties. These new-tech GreenFlush units are an available alternative well within the city’s budget. For the $650,000 that the city is spending on one old-tech bathroom for windsurfers, the city could replace every porta-potty in every city park, and still save a bundle on maintenance.