How’s business? Listen to the toilets
How many people are in Aspen at any given moment on a busy holiday weekend? Tallying up toilet flushes is as good an indicator as any.At the city’s wastewater treatment plant, operators don’t need to check the resort’s occupancy reports to know when town is hopping. They just check the flow meter. As Aspen’s population swells, so does the sewage it produces.On Thursday, the plant measured 2.38 million gallons of sewage coming into its system. Dividing that total by 90 – the standard assumed production of wastewater per person, per day – produces a rough estimate of the number of people in town: 26,444. Aspen’s full-time, year-round population is about 6,300 people, according to the most recent census data.The 90-gallons-per-person standard reflects an individual’s use of water, which then becomes wastewater, including daily showers and toilet flushes. “It’s not an exact science,” conceded Tracy Dillingham, plant superintendent. Still, he added, “everybody flushes.”The plant’s service area extends beyond the townsite and, in some cases, the city limits. It stretches up to Aspen Highlands and takes in Red Mountain and the Aspen Airport Business Center, for example.Readings at the plant fluctuate throughout the day, dropping off after 8 p.m., when commuting workers have left town for the night, Dillingham noted.”A lot of what we see for a daily flow is the downvalley work force coming in,” he said.Wednesday’s flow indicated 24,111 people were in town – exactly the same estimate that the plant derived from flows on the same day a year ago. On Dec. 29, 2004, flows indicated a population of almost 24,889 – slightly less than what was recorded on Thursday.Christmas Day 2004 produced a population estimate of 22,111 – slightly less than the 21,333 on the holiday this year. Last year’s peak day during the month of December was Dec. 31, when Aspen’s population hit 26,222, judging from the waste it produced.Janet Urquhart’s e-mail address is firstname.lastname@example.org
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Colorado’s Western Slope is considered a climate hot spot where temperatures are increasing faster than the global average. This warming has contributed to more than 20 years of dryness, which scientists are calling a megadrought.