Don't blush: Residents told when to flush


DES MOINES, Iowa -- Normally, news conferences don't cover bathroom topics. Mayors don't discuss flushing, say, with the same ease as infrastructure. And engineers don't grin and talk about toilet overload.

But with 250,000 people without water since last weekend, officials in Des Moines found themselves facing some unusual problems -- among them how to advise a whole city on the delicate topic of when to flush.

So it was that in news conferences last week, officials soberly discussed "solid waste." They counseled restraint. They counseled patience. Sometimes, though, they broke into humor.

Asked for a advice on flushing, Des Moines Water Works General Manager L.D. McMullen was forced to borrow from the wisdom of the last state to face a water crisis: California.

"To use a California phrase," said Mr. McMullen, 'If it's yellow, let it mellow; if it's brown, flush it down.' "

Generally, residents should simply use their judgment and "flush when it gets gross," according to city health official Steve Gunson.

Officials find themselves discussing these delicate matters in public because extensive flushing might overload the water purification plant.

Those who don't want to flush have another option. Des Moines has an estimated 4,500 portable toilets around the city.

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