This article was originally published in the May/June 1993 issue of Home Energy Magazine. Some formatting inconsistencies may be evident in older archive content.



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Home Energy Magazine Online May/June 1993




Trends in Energy is a bulletin of residential energy conservation issues. It covers items ranging from the latest policy issues to the newest energy technologies. If you have items that would be of interest, please send them to: Trends Department, Home Energy, 2124 Kittredge St., No. 95, Berkeley, CA 94704.


Group Bridges Toilet Rebate Gap

Reducing energy and water bills is a great way to save money, especially for those on limited budgets. In many parts of the country, water utilities offer rebates up to $100 to customers who replace high consumption toilets. Unfortunately, low-income consumers often cannot afford the initial expense of more efficient technologies. Such was the case with the Los Angeles Department of Water and Power's (LAWDP) rebate program until a grassroots citizens action group called Mothers of East Los Angeles-Santa Isabel sprang into action last July (see Changing the Way Southern Californians Flush, HE, July/Aug '92, p. 29). According to Los Angeles City Councilman Richard Alatorre, The Mothers of East L.A. have brought services and a program to their community that were previously out of reach.

Mothers of East Los Angeles-Santa Isabel buys toilets at bulk discounts, distributes them free to low-income residents, and receives a $100 rebate for each from either the LAWDP or the Metropolitan Water District of Southern California (MWD). The rebate money pays for the toilets and five full-time and four part-time salaries for area residents who distribute the toilets, provide installation assistance, and conduct follow-up inspections. The funds also provide seed money for a childcare program. Several private corporations donate time, services, and equipment. Recipients or their friends and neighbors, install most of the fixtures. Since the program began, over 2,000 toilets have been installed and most of the old toilets have been recycled into road construction material.

In many low-income communities, residents live in multifamily dwellings, and frequently there are more users per fixture than in more affluent areas. According to a recent study in Los Angeles, replacing a single toilet in a multifamily dwelling saves an average of 44 gallons per day, but replacing one in a single family dwelling only saves 28 gallons per day. Mothers of East Los Angeles-Santa Isabel also distributes energy-efficient lights from Phillips and low-flow showerheads from MWD. The group's Martin Gutieruiz estimates that each household saves $30-$120 in water and energy per year.

Less than 10 years old, Mothers of East Los Angeles-Santa Isabel has been very successful in organizing the once politically and economically disenfranchised barrio of Santa Isabel in East Los Angeles against such threats as toxic waste incinerators, hazardous waste dumps, and a large state prison project. By working with an organization that specializes in arranging public-private partnerships called Cooperative Technology Services International (CTSI), the Mothers of East Los Angeles-Santa Isabel is now one of the first of many grassroots groups involved in partnership efforts to save local residents money through increased resource efficiency.

According to Julio Sanchez of CTSI, they will be continuing the water conservation project and similar ones with other community-based organizations such as the First African Methodist Episcopal Church as well as some HUD projects. CTSI's current goal is to establish five similar projects in the Southern California area over the next year. CTSI has already distributed 800,000 water conservation kits through a wide variety of projects including public-private partnerships and employee giveaways. Their services include warehousing and distribution of fixtures, award programs, and specialized educational and promotion materials and presentations in English, Spanish, Chinese, and Vietnamese.

By focussing on low-income communities, planners can maximize an efficiency program's resource savings and help those most in need. For the Mothers of East Los Angeles-Santa Isabel program to repeat itself in other areas, all that is needed is an active local grassroots group, the expertise of a company such as CTSI, and cooperative utilities.

  • -- Scott Chaplin

Scott Chaplin is a senior research associate with the Water Program at Rocky Mountain Institute in Snowmass, Colorado.


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