High Desert State Prison plumbers Alfred Garcia (left, showing a Palm Pilot used for remotely monitoring and operating plumbing fixtures), and Patrick Peters (holding a low-consumption Royal Flushometer valve body), attest to the ease with which they can maintain and secure plumbing operations in individual cells or entire prison buildings.

Controlling Abusive Behavior

Prisons typically install plumbing control products to keep inmates from abusing fixtures, which can result in fixture or water damage. In one building at Corcoran housing about 150 inmates, the toilets and sinks in 128 cells, as well as the showers, are on the same programmable system. Corcoran’s plumbers use a MICROPlumb Programmable Palm Pilot to program the PWT system from the field rather than centralizing control on a desktop PC as some other PWT customers have chosen to do. Using the Palm Pilot gives Corcoran plumbers the flexibility to make changes on the spot as the need arises. “What I like about that is that you can program sinks for 15 seconds, and it runs for exactly 15 seconds,” said Chuck Mauldin, one of Corcoran’s plumbers.

Exerting that type of control over plumbing fixtures is part of maintaining control over the prison population in general. Officials at High Desert, who implemented the PWT system in the prison’s high-security Level IV yard after hearing what a difference it had made at Corcoran, also attest to the benefits of the control system.

“Now we’re regulating flushes so inmates can’t flush everything,” said Dena Schweizer, High Desert’s utility shop supervisor, who oversees the prison’s plumbers. “We don’t have as many mainline blockages in sewer lines. When inmates act out, they want to flush plastic bags, mattresses, clothing - anything to clog up the system. Then, in turn, we have to clear the lines. It can be any time of day or night, and that gets hard on the staff. That’s subsided with the control system, because inmates can’t keep flushing the toilet.”

Some inmates have voiced their discontent about the controls, which Schweizer claims is because they are simply upset that they can no longer flush what they want. Removing the system is not an option when it’s helping the prison achieve its water conservation goals. “They need to save their flushes for what it was intended for,” she said. Mauldin agrees that limiting flush frequency minimizes inmate misbehavior. “If they’re able to flush as rapidly as they want, they can flush down a lot,” he said.

Water Conservation is Biggest Benefit

While both prisons have benefited from controlling fixture use to thwart abuses, the number one advantage that administrators cite-and the primary reason that the prisons sought this type of system-is water conservation. On the water closets, the systems in both facilities allow inmates two flushes within five minutes and blocks them out for an hour if they flush again.

Even having just one section of High Desert on the PWT system has made a significant difference. “Water consumption has drastically dropped,” said Schweizer, who estimates a water use decrease of at least one-third so far.

Due to overcrowding and high water usage, High Desert has been exceeding its local sewer water treatment agency’s permissible wastewater levels. Schweizer said that just by retrofitting its water closets with Sloan’s MICROPlumb low-consumption Royal Flushometer valve bodies and installing the PWT system at Level IV only, High Desert is already well on its way toward being in compliance with the agency’s acceptable capacity levels. Once the PWT system installation and the retrofits are completed throughout the facility, High Desert officials are confident that the prison will then be in compliance.

It’s the same story at Corcoran, which is saving “thousands of gallons per day,” said Mauldin. That, too, is after installing the PWT system in just one building on its water closets, lavatories and showers, as well as retrofitting its off-brand manual flush valves, which randomly used 5 gallons of water or more for each flush, with water-saver Sloan Flushometers.

Officials don’t yet know how much water Corcoran, which has more than 6,200 inmates, and High Desert, which has about 4,000 inmates, will conserve once these institutions have all units in each of their respective facilities on the system. Both institutions have, however, already gained a healthy payback by having water-conserving Flushometers run by the PWT system to limit flushes and other water usage, and officials are looking forward to greater savings across the board.

California, which suffers from ongoing water shortages, has numerous regulations for curbing water use and penalizing those who fail to abide by them. So it’s ironic that two of the state’s penal facilities, which were under pressure for their exorbitant water use, are now models for institutional water conservation.

These two California prisons, California State Prison-Corcoran in Corcoran and High Desert State Prison in Susanville, both have two institutional facilities on the same site sharing a water treatment plant. As opposed to typical residential development, where population growth takes a slow, but steadily increasing toll on local resources, the opening of a prison with its thousands of occupants can be likened to a small city rising nearly overnight. A new prison puts a large and immediate demand on resources, including water supplies and wastewater services.

To conserve water and to cut water and wastewater costs, both prisons have installed Sloan Valve Company’s Programmed Water Technologies (PWT) system. The PWT products include computerized control devices that enable plumbers or administrators to turn water on and off to any combination of toilets, sinks or showers and to program pre-set limits for plumbing fixture use.