Musical provides unlikely water conservation forum


    By Matthew Pruitt

    Using the facilities is a privilege for those who pay when there”s not enough water to flush down the toilet.

    The possibility of such a situation occurring will be addressed tonight after a local performance of “Urinetown: The Musical” during an in-depth panel discussion highlighting the conservation of water in Utah.

    The Park City-based Egyptian Theatre Company”s newest production, “Urinetown,” a musical that won three Tony awards in 2002, portrays a city government”s enforcement of a ban on private toilets stemming from a water shortage caused by a 20-year drought. Citizens are forced to pay for use of public toilets managed by a single company, the Urine Good Company, which profits by charging admission to use the restroom.

    “I guess what”s fun about it is that we”re kind of laughing at ourselves as a society,” said Dana Durbano, artistic director of the Egyptian Theatre Company.

    BYU student Kevin Goertzen plays the main character in “Urinetown,” Bobby Strong, an attendant at one of the public amenities who heroically rebels against the government and the Urine Good Company.

    “He gets the people to not pay, and he opens the public amenity number nine to allow the people to go for free,” said Goertzen, a senior from Orem studying acting.

    The situation presented in “Urinetown” is not unique; similar water shortages have recently beset Utah and the rest of America. Every year, a portion of America experiences drought, and policies are set to conserve water. However, what policies to set and how to enforce them is a controversial subject.

    “How far do we go?” Durbano said.

    Appropriate solutions for water conservation in Utah, and the extent to which they should be applied, will be the center of the post-show panel, “Urinetown: Answering Nature”s Call,” following tonight”s performance of “Urinetown.” The panel will consist of five influential community members: Insa Riepen, executive director of Recycle Utah; Mike Luers, general manager of the Snyderville Basin Water Reclamation District; Greg Larson, education and land manager of the Swaner Nature Preserve; Molly Waters, water conservation coordinator for the Utah Division of Water Conservation; and Sandra Golden of Arid Scapes Concepts Inc.

    “Each panel participant will be able to speak,” said Jessica Kunzer, director of marketing and special events for the Egyptian Theatre Company. “Then we”ll engage in an audience question and answer session.”

    The musical starts at 8 p.m. and should last approximately two hours.

    “If you want to come just to the panel after the show, it”s free,” Durbano said. “And no, we do not charge our patrons to pee.”

    Although the show revolves around toilets as a large problem for water conservation, some sources said, in reality, eliminating private toilets wouldn”t be the best solution.

    Utahns could save some water by installing low-flow toilets and showerheads, but toilets should be our least concern, said Insa Riepen, executive director of Recycle Utah.

    “Most of all water is wasted outdoors; it”s not wasted inside,” Riepen said. “Eighty-six percent of the fresh water that we use in Utah is wasted on lawns.”

    While watering during the day can cause evaporation, the popular belief that watering at night greatly reduces water consumption misses the big picture, said Roy Peterman, director of grounds maintenance at BYU.

    “There are other factors; you have to know the whole problem,” Peterman said.

    Wind consumes 10 to 20 percent more water than sunlight, he said. The best time to water is at night when there is no wind, he said.

    Riepen said a good way to save water is to have less lawn space and grow plants indigenous to the region that will grow well with little water maintenance. Development, she said, is also a problem for Utah”s water conservation.

    “Development is not beneficial to retaining water resources,” Riepen said. “We seem to develop without any regard to water sources.”

    Other sources said there must be a balance between development and water conservation. Peterman said society shouldn”t be so fixated on water conservation that they forget the rest of the picture. For example, a tree that would use a lot of water might shade a house and save electricity, another scarce resource, he said.

    “Urinetown” presents a satirical look on American society, showing how far overboard society can get when addressed with solving an issue, Goertzen said.

    Development has been an increasing problem for water conservation in Utah Valley, but solutions are being put in place to work with the growth so that Provo doesn”t become like Urinetown. Keeping the water system up to scale with growth has proven problematic for the city of American Fork.

    “With the growth that we”ve had both residentially and commercially, that”s put a strain on our water supply system,” said Mayor Heber Thompson of American Fork.

    Recent evaluations by an independent engineering firm, Horrock Engineering, suggested that American Fork has about two years to bring its water supply up to scale with the growth in the area, or the city will have problems supplying the entire community with water.

    “We”re going to have a hard time matching our growth after two years with the current resources unless we take some action,” Thompson said. “There clearly will be some conservation measures that we expect to encourage.”

    In addition to conservation measures, Thompson also said the city has been holding public hearings to discuss the matter and the solutions Horrock Engineering has proposed.

    The issue at hand has already been considered by BYU, and water conservation measures have been taken by BYU landscaping crews.

    “We received the water conservation award last year from the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation Western Division,” Peterman said.

    BYU landscaping crews have 48 specific policies regarding water conservation, he said.

    “That”s why we received the award – it was an unsolicited award,” Peterman said.


    -What: “Urinetown: The Musical” and a panel discussion immediately following tonight”s show, “Urinetown: Answering Nature”s Call”

    -When: July 7- August 19, Wednesday- Saturday at 8 p.m.

    -Where: The Egyptian Theatre in Park City, 328 Main St.

    -Admission: The panel discussion is free. Tickets for the musical range from $18-32. Student tickets are $18 on weekdays and $20 on weekends. Tickets can be ordered online at or by calling the box office at 435-649-9371.

    -For more information visit and

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