Affordable housing development High Place East (Daniel Archuleta)

There was too much money going down the drain.

About a year and a half ago, the Community Corporation of Santa Monica shelled out more than $2,400 for one month of water and sewer charges at a 32-unit apartment building on 5th Street north of Wilshire Boulevard.

The private nonprofit group felt something had to be done to bring down costs.

“We’re flushing potable water down the drain,” said John Mimms, project manager for the locally based affordable housing management agency. “If we can do it by using less water, that makes sense in terms of the drought. But also from a business point of view, especially with water rates going up, we see it as a good investment to offset future operating expenses.”

As the severity of California’s ongoing drought continues impacting discussions and decisions across the state, numerous agencies, companies and property owners are searching for more ways to curb water use.

For the Community Corporation, bathrooms were obvious targets. According to SoCal WaterSmart, which handles water conservation rebates in the region, as much as 30 percent of a home’s water is used on flushing the toilet.

In May, the Community Corporation upgraded the aforementioned 5th Street property by installing ultra-low-flow toilets that use just 0.8 gallons of water per flush.

By December, the building’s water and sewage bill was down to just over $1,600 – an approximately 33-percent reduction from the same month’s bill a year earlier.

“We’ve had a lot of benefit with very little drawback,” Mimms said.

The effort began a few years ago, when city officials asked Community Corporation to test water-saving devices in one of its 97 properties in Santa Monica. The city contributed funding to the project.

“There was no reason for us not to try it,” Mimms said.

Tenants volunteered to have low-flow toilets installed, and the organization started tracking utility data with an online tool. Officials found that water use was declining substantially.

“Now we’re installing the low-flow toilets throughout our portfolio,” said Sarah Letts, the nonprofit’s executive director. “Everybody can do it.”

The housing entity has put in low-flow toilets in three more buildings since the initial pilot program and plans to upgrade three more this year. The agency is seeing 20- to 30-percent drops in water use on a year-to-year basis in buildings where the efficient toilets have been installed.

There were initially some concerns about plumbing issues and maintenance costs, but Mimms said those two problems have not panned out.

“Sometimes you have to flush twice to clear the whole bowl, but even flushing it twice is using one flush of a standard toilet,” he said.

Mimms has happily put his money where his mouth is — he has a low-flow toilet in his own residence. He said it makes economic and environmental sense.

“The bottom line is that the financial benefit is what drives it,” he said. “We’d like to be green, and we’d like to be sustainable, and with these toilets we’ve had great success with both.”

For more information about water efficiency, contact the city Office of Sustainability and the Environment at (310) 458-8972 or For more information about water conservation rebates, visit

Contact Jeff Goodman at 310-573-8351, or on Twitter.

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