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New App Advises When to Let it Mellow

2012 January 18

By Elizabeth Myer

At EPA, we’re not tired of talking about Combined Sewer Overflows (CSOs) and apparently, most New Yorkers aren’t over the subject, either. And why should we be? Our waterfronts are home to an abundance of parks, fancy restaurants, and nightlife. As a matter of fact, according to the Brooklyn Daily Eagle, real estate prices have actually risen in the Gowanus neighborhood ever since the Canal was deemed hazardous enough to be added to the National Priorities List (NPL). Despite the fact that severe contamination of New York waterways doesn’t necessarily seem to be a deterrent, we are certainly psyched to learn about the Parson’s Graduate student, Leif Percifield, and his ambitious startup called DontFlushMe. DontFlushMe aims to teach New Yorkers that we all play a vital role in reducing wastewater production before and during an overflow event.

Drainage in the Gowanus Canal (via Jessica Dailey)

According to Percifield, CSOs account for the nearly 27 billion gallons of raw sewage that are dumped into New York’s harbors each year. As a means of reducing wastewater, Percifield designed a prototype proximity sensor in hopes that it will eventually be used to measure water levels in sewer systems across New York. The proximity sensor operates in conjunction with a cell phone to transmit data to a database that contains various modes of contact information for DontFlushMe participants. When water levels appear higher than average, participants are alerted via text message, Twitter, or by checking a call-in number, should they wish to opt out of providing contact info. If interested, New York residents can register to receive these alerts on the DontFlushMe blog. In summary, when sewer systems are overloaded, it seems appropriate to apply the old adage: If it’s yellow, let it mellow…well, we all know the rest.

Editor's Note: The opinions expressed here are those of the author. They do not reflect EPA policy, endorsement, or action, and EPA does not verify the accuracy or science of the contents of the blog.

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7 Responses leave one →
  1. Joanne permalink
    January 18, 2012

    What do we do at the Jersey “Shaw”?

  2. Leif Percifield permalink
    January 21, 2012

    Thanks for the great post! I’ve always loved the “… let it mellow” slogan. While the toilet is the number one source of residential water consumption, things like washing machines and dish washers are also big users of water. Not that I really need an excuse to not wash dishes or run a load of laundry, but putting these off during a rain storm can help reduce a direct source of water pollution.


  3. emyer permalink
    January 23, 2012

    Keep up your great work, Leif!

  4. Peter permalink
    January 23, 2012

    A tool like this would also be useful for swimmers and boaters who don’t always receive notifications in time and end up experiencing CSOs ‘first hand.’

    • emyer permalink
      January 23, 2012

      I completely agree, Peter! In fact, I happen to fall into that category. Thanks for reading.

  5. jaime permalink
    January 23, 2012

    if its brown flush it down?

  6. Kathleen Foley permalink
    June 13, 2012

    Yes to Jaime… you can flush it down if it’s brown. Thank goodness we’re finally bringing this motto back into conversation. I’ve suggested this strategy as a component to reduce CSO’s and SSO’s for many years and it’s great to see it come to fruition. At my uncle’s lakeside cottage we were taught this at a young age, but that was for different reasons, an overloaded or under-designed septic system. But now I feel we have a new challenge, that of automated flushers which flush up to 3x before one even starts their ‘business’. If people understand how to set the sensitivites on the auto-flushers, we can make headway on reducing the contribution to the wastewater systems.

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