Stop Flushing Money Down The Drain

By Bob Merrill

Several years ago while we were running confirmation camp, we kept running out of water (the camp runs its own water system). I was stressed out trying to figure out what the problem was.


Eventually I tracked down a leak in the main line that runs to our storage tank. Let me tell you, it is not pleasant to be in charge when you have a full camp where no one can take a shower, and you have to do the old, ‘if its brown flush it down and if its yellow, let it mellow’ thing. In addition, we barely had enough water pressure to run the coffee machine. Imagine your camp with a dozen staff members and no coffee!

Several pastors approached me and asked how they could help.

Turning Back To Move Forward
I pulled out a camp plan that had been on the shelf for almost five years. It called for expanding the camp’s water-storage capacity and adding a pressure-boosting pump house. After explaining the mechanics involved, the pastors said, “Hey, why don't we get all new toilets too?” They went home and in several months, their churches raised $12,000 and we were off and running. Partway through the project, we were running short on funds. I was sitting down to lunch one day at camp and Tony Pittenger sat down across from me. After he introduced himself, he asked, “Bob, does the camp have any water system needs?” I said yes, “How did you know?” He said he didn’t. He explained that he and several others at his church raise funds for water systems around the world and they offered to help us. Within a month, we received a check for $6,000 and we were making progress again. Through the work of many, we raised a bit more and were able to finish the project.

A Sustainable Future
We needed 30 new toilets, so I went toilet shopping. I got a hold of our plumber and he told me we needed to buy the Caroma toilet (from Australia). The model we bought has a plastic tank (how many porcelain toilets have you seen where the lid does not fit because it got broken and they replaced it with one that does not fit?). This toilet has a two-button flush system--a little button for liquid and a big button for solid waste (Ok, I know I’m being polite here, but that’s really what the manufacturers’ little sign says--the sign we put at each toilet to explain its use). This toilet also has a 4-inch trap all the way through the toilet, which translates into only plunging three toilets in four years and saving 250,000 gallons of water in the first year! What a wonderful statement to those who wonder if we use our resources wisely. By using less water in our toilets, we leave more for nature and our neighbors.

The Ripple Effect
And we even found a way to recycle some of the old toilets. After placing an ad in the local newspaper, I received several responses, including one from a couple who was leaving their life-long business in home construction to build a new mission facility in Mexico. They were looking for toilets to take with them, so we picked the best and the newest toilets from the old toilets. It was refreshing to know we could help someone else.

Bob Merrill has been the camp director at Lutherwood Camp and Retreat Center in Bellingham, Wash. For more than seven years. He can be reached via e-mail at