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Ultra Low Flush Toilet Program Water Conservation Team

Juana Gutierra 
Madres de Este de Los Angeles - Santa Isabel 
924 So. Mott St. 
Los Angeles, CA 90023 
tel: (213) 269-9898 
fax: (213) 269-2446 
No Internet Link Currently Available 


The Mothers of East Los Angeles - Santa Isabel's (MELA-IS) Ultra Low Flush Toilet Program Water Conservation Team employs local area students to identify eligible residents in low-income neighborhoods and to help install free ultra-low-flush toilets (ULFT's) in these residents' homes. 

Through a unique partnership between the local water agency and MELA-IS, MELA-IS receives a $25 rebate for every ULFT they install. A portion of the money that MELA-IS earns through the rebates pays the full cost of installing the toilets and excess revenue is used by MELA-IS to fund its own community development programs, which include a lead poison prevention project and a literacy campaign. Recipients of the new ultra-low-flush toilets return their old toilets to the water agency to be crushed and used in road gravel. 

The toilet replacement program was pioneered in 1992 by MELA-IS in cooperation the Metropolitan Water District of Southern California (MWDSC). The initial pilot program had a goal of installing 1,000 ULFT's over eight weeks. Due to the overwhelming success of the pilot program, by 1994 numerous community-based organizations in addition to MELA-IS had joined the program and the program now installs approximately 100,000 toilets a year. 

According to the MWDSC, the average person uses 135 gallons of water a day, and the average household uses 163,000 gallons -- or about half an acre-foot -- per year. (One acre foot is the amount of water that would cover an acre of land to a depth of one foot, or about 326,000 gallons.) 

Several years ago, in an attempt to reduce water consumption (it is less expensive to conserve water than to locate new water sources), the MWDSC introduced a toilet replacement program, but the program returned poor participation rates. In 1992, MELA-IS met with the MWDSC and other water utilities to explain that low-income residents couldn't afford to pay $100 for a new toilet and wait 30 days for a rebate check. MELA-IS outlined an alternative strategy and the pilot project was born. 

"It is very gratifying to participate in a program where everyone ends up winning," says Angel Echevarria, Board of Water and Power Commissioners member. "The community wins by having toilets installed in their homes that will save them water and money, and the water industry wins by gaining a broader base of permanent water savings in the community." 

Community-based organizations, like MELA-IS, win, too, by employing community members to install the toilets, and by receiving funding for their community outreach programs. 

"This program is providing employment for people who were unemployed. It's providing health insurance for people who wouldn't otherwise have it, and it's bringing water conservation to areas that would otherwise be excluded," says Keith Watkins, program director for the California Department of Water Resources. "We now have a bridge between water agencies and communities that was never there before." 

Program Highlights 

How the Program Works 

  • The MWDSC and local water agencies provide funding through their conservation programs to CTSI Corporation, which warehouses the toilets and recruits community-based organizations (CBO's) to participate in the program. Once trained in marketing, customer relations, data entry and inventory control, the participating CBO's make the toilets available free of charge in surrounding communities. For each toilet distributed, the CBO is paid a fixed fee (approximately $25) that they can use to cover all costs and to help fund their own programs. Toilet recipients return their old toilets to be ground up and used in road gravel.
MELA-IS Programs Funded through the Toilet Replacement Program: 
  • MELA-SI has been able to create an immunization program in which children up to 18 years of age receive free immunizations and physicals.
  • The Child Lead Poison Prevention program in which students go door to door to make community members aware of the possibility that they may have lead in their homes, and to refer residents for free lead testing at nearby county facilities.
  • A graffiti abatement program that hires high school students to remove graffiti and paint murals.
  • A tutoring program that provides academic tutoring and self-esteem classes to improve high school graduation rates in low-income communities.
  • A one-time donation of $2,000 to buy diapers, baby food and water for earthquake victims.

Vital Statistics

Program Management/Partnerships: The Ultra Low Flush Toilet Program Water Conservation Team is managed by the Mothers of East Los Angeles - Santa Isabel (MELA-IS) in cooperation with the Metropolitan Water District of Southern California (MWDSC). In administering toilet replacement and its additional community outreach programs, MELA-IS works with numerous organizations including CTSI, FAME, KYCC, Water Savers, IPDD, Heal the Bay, Mono Lake Committee, Water Wise, the City of Los Angeles and Orange County. 

Budget: The latest figures are available by contacting the program. 

Community Served: The low-income community of the Los Angeles area. 

Measures of Success:

  • To date, the program has distributed more than 550,000 ULFT's.
  • In 1995, the program employed 27 students and gave out $20,000 in scholarships.
  • To date, the program has employed 50 persons and given scholarships to 70 students.
  • Toilets installed through the program are saving more than 12 million gallons of water a day.
  • In 1995, the program received the Leadership in Water Conservation Award from the U.S. Department of the Interior, Bureau of Reclamation.
  • Recipients of ULFT's save $30 - $120 in water and energy costs per year.

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