The toilets in the boys’ room on the third floor of Bayside High School in Queens flush with a quick but powerful surge and then water gurgles back up into the bowl.
This might sound standard for a restroom, but since August, Bayside has been saving gallons of water with every flush of its 102 toilets.
Bayside is one of two New York City public schools in a pilot program to replace water-wasting toilets with new low-flow flushers. Within five years, 500 city schools are to have 40,000 toilets with new technology that should cut water consumption 70 percent and save four million gallons of water each day, or more than 700 million gallons a year, according to the Department of Environmental Protection.
The new toilets send 1.2 gallons of water down the pipes each time they are used, a reduction from 3.5 to 4.5 gallons with the old toilets, Richard Fricione the building’s head engineer, said.
“Three hundred employees, 3,200 kids, and the building is open till 11 p.m. for community groups,” Mr. Fricione said. “That’s a lot of flushing.”
But the students do not see much of a change.
“I don’t really analyze the whole flushing experience,” Patryk Kostek, a Bayside junior, said one morning last month. “There’s no difference. I haven’t noticed any clogs or malfunctions.”
The new toilets are part of the Department of Environmental Protection’s preparations for the temporary shutdown of the Delaware Aqueduct in 2020. The 85-mile aqueduct, which carries water from north of the city, currently supplies more than half of the city’s public water but needs to be taken out of use for repairs, which may force the city to get water from more expensive sources.
The toilet project, part of a citywide effort to cut water consumption by 5 percent, is expected to be finished by 2018, at a cost of $31 million, the city says. The 500 schools involved are about 30 percent of the city total. The rest are not in the program because some are already slated for renovation and others have been deemed too small to be worth the effort; in any case, the city says it has time to address only 500 schools before the aqueduct project starts.
The pilot program at Bayside and the second school, Hillcrest High, also in Queens, helps gauge how long the rest of those restroom replacements will take, according to John Shea, head of the Department of Education’s facilities division.
“The biggest concern we had was the impact to the school and how disruptive it was going to be, because now you’re not just taking a fixture off the wall and replacing it with another one,” Mr. Shea said. “You’re jackhammering tile, in some cases, and drilling holes, and it’s not as easy as just replacing an existing unit.”
The toilets are able to get the job done with one-third the water thanks to improved bowl design, which allows more efficient emptying. Older toilets often have curvy tubes underneath that are harder to pass without the heft of gallons of water. Eddie Orlowski, one of the school’s engineers, pointed under a stall in the boys’ room to show that the new fixtures have a straighter shot to the sewer — fewer, gentler bends in the piping require less water to flush successfully.
To prepare for the Delaware Aqueduct’s dry spell, the city is working to add capacity to another aqueduct, the Catskill, and is seeking additional water sources, like wells in Queens. The toilet project and other conservation programs are hoped to ensure that New York will not have to turn to much costlier options, like buying water from New Jersey.
“Through these measures, we think we can make sure there are no shortfalls,” said Carter Strickland, the city’s environmental commissioner.
Students like Mr. Kostek said they were happy to oblige with their low-flow flushes. “It’s going to save a great deal of water, so I think it’s a great idea,” he said.