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Doug Krizner: Three states in the southeastern U.S. have been fighting over water for the past 20 years. This season's historic drought has only made things worse. Today was the deadline for Georgia, Florida and Alabama to come up with a long-term water-sharing agreement. But yesterday, state officials said they'll miss the deadline. We'll get a status report instead.
Now, this struggle over water rights inspired a dentist in Athens, Georgia to conserve. And that's where the porta-potties come in. Here's Nancy Marshall Genzer.
Nancy Marshall Genzer: Twin sisters Brenda Zareie and Barbara Fogg manage the Athens Family Dental Center. They tend to finish each others' sentences, like when they're asked whose idea it was to install the porta-potties.
Brenda Zareie and Barbara Fogg: Didn't you suggest that to start with? We were afraid we'd run out of water and have to close our doors. If we were out of water and couldn't flush, then we'd be out of business.
That's hardly the case. In fact, the dental center is flush. One reason: The staff is encouraged to use the porta-potties out back. That cuts the practice's water bill by a quarter.
The twins love showing off their profitable porta-potties:
Zareie: It seems quite nice, that one shelf is bigger . . . did you see the hand sanitizer . . .
The hand sanitizer helps with the "yuck factor."
Brenda Zareie says patients don't mind their dentist using a porta-potty as long as they're not required to. But they are handed a water-saving tip sheet as they leave. Zareie wrote it.
Zareie: The first one is brushing your teeth with the water off. There is a saying, I don't know if I can say this, about the flushing of the toilet. OK: The saying is, "If it's yellow, let it mellow. If it's brown, flush it down."
Richard Linowes teaches business at American University. He says the dental center has the right approach -- it's able to conserve water without annoying off customers. He doesn't recommend forcing patients to use the porta-potties, even if the drought gets worse.
Richard Linowes: That does introduce a new ripple in the normal anxiety that one might have going to the dental office. I think you can tell them this is available, but you may not have to require it.
Brenda Zareie says positive porta-potty publicity even brought in a new customer.
Zareie: So when she got here, she said, "I'm a new patient because y'all have porta-potties!"
Zareie says they plan to keep the porta-potties indefinitely.
I'm Nancy Marshall Genzer for Marketplace.