SANTA CRUZ >> Underneath the city, snaking unseen through a system of pipes, is a stinky, sticky sludge nobody wants to talk about: human waste.
This week, a UC Santa Cruz wastewater research class debuted two public events centered on human waste and how it’s treated. The class led a 5K walk Saturday, attended by around 80, tracing sewage’s route from campus to the treatment facility by Neary Lagoon.
A speaker panel on waste, water and public space was held Thursday at UCSC.
The goal, said Jennifer Parker, associate professor of art, is to spark conversation about the enormous amount of water running through sewers. Parker is head of UCSC’s art department and OpenLab, an interdepartmental collaboration, which both sponsored the events.
“We use perfectly clean drinkable water to put our waste in and it’s just that as a primary question — is that the best use of our resources?” Parker said.
The Santa Cruz wastewater treatment facility handles around 10 million gallons of wastewater each day — enough to fill a swimming pool the size of a football field a depth of nearly 50 feet, according to its website. Around half is from Santa Cruz and the rest from Live Oak, Capitola and Aptos.
That’s about 100 gallons of wastewater per person a day, from toilets, showers, washing machines and other domestic sources.
Capitola resident Brenda Livingstone joined the 5K on Saturday looking for exercise, and spent her morning following signs marked with arrows and cartoons of “smiling poop.”
She learned surprising statistics, such as toilets account for 27 percent household wastewater, the largest contributor.
Now she plans to change the way she showers and washes dishes, she said.
“All those little bits help,” said Livingstone.
Digital arts and new media graduate student Andrea Steves, the class’s co-leader, said she’s surprised that waste is not regularly part of discussion on the drought.
“A lot of the time it’s like, ‘Take shorter showers.’ But again, maybe it’s the ‘ick’ factor. People don’t want to talk about poop and people don’t want to talk about flushing the toilet,” Steves said.
Brooklyn, New York-based artist Shawn Shafner was one of four speakers Thursday. He founded the People’s Own Organic Power Project, an art and education sustainable sanitation program.
He began by tracing food’s route through intestines and sphincters, and asking the audience to call out synonyms for “the bodily function that dare not speak its name.”
We don’t have to disassociate from our “poop” and say “That’s not me,” said Shafner.
“It may not be our prettiest part or our best-smelling part, but it is part of us,” he said.