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Portland Dumps 38 Million Gallons of Water Over 16 Ounces of Urine

Woman Drinking Glass of Water

Portland, Oregon government officials and USA Today headline writers are innumerate.

USA Today (“Man urinates in reservoir, ruins 38M gallons of water“):

Portland water officials are discarding 38 million gallons of drinking water after a 19-year-old was caught urinating into one of the city’s reservoirs.

[...]

“Our customers have an expectation that their water is not deliberately contaminated,” said [Administrator David Shaff of the Portland Water Bureau] while acknowledging that the health risk is slight. “We have the ability to meet that expectation while minimizing public health concerns.”

[...]

In 2011, the city dumped 8 million gallons, a mere 160,000 baths, from Mount Tabor Reservoir No. 1 after a 22-year-old man from Molalla, Ore., admitted to urinating in it. He eventually pleaded guilty to misuse of a reservoir and was sentenced to community service.

In that case, it cost the water bureau $32,700, passed on to customers, to drain the reservoir, and that decision caused a wave of backlash from many who said it was an unnecessary response.

Some complained that animals sometimes fall into the reservoir and die without any such action taken.

“I think part of it is just that general yuck factor of, ‘Yes, we have birds on there all the time, but we don’t have people peeing in it all the time,’ ” Shaff said In defending the 2011 decision.

If the area were in drought conditions, he said he probably would make a different decision.

“It’s easy to replace those 38 million gallons of water,” Shaff said. “We’re not in the arid Southwest. We’re not in drought-stricken parts of Texas or Oklahoma.”

Floy Jones, co-founder of the group Friends of the Reservoirs, criticized the decision to drain, saying officials have no evidence any urine reached the water and it wouldn’t harm anyone if it did. ”It’s extremely wasteful,” she said.

The National Institutes of Health estimates that, “An average person’s bladder can hold 350 milliliters (ml) to 550 ml of urine. Most people will feel like they need to urinate when there is about 200 ml of urine in the bladder.” So, we’re talking about a pint of piss at most.

The notion that a microscopic amount of someone’s piss might be in my drinking water is less than appealing. But no less than the notion multiple animals have died in it. Not to mention the gobs and gobs of birdshit. But given that the city inexplicably stores their drinking water in an open air container, that’s just going to happen.

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About James Joyner
James Joyner is the publisher of Outside the Beltway, an associate professor of security studies at the Marine Corps Command and Staff College, and a nonresident senior fellow at the Atlantic Council. He's a former Army officer and Desert Storm vet. He has a PhD in political science from The University of Alabama. Views expressed here are his own. Follow James on Twitter.

Comments

  1. John Peabody says:

    City officials are never known for their bravery against lawsuits from unintelligent people. Someone (perhaps rightly) figured that this was easier.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 3 Thumb down 0

  2. OzarkHillbilly says:

    “The solution to pollution is dilution.”

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 5 Thumb down 0

  3. superdestroyer says:

    So much for progressives being data driven, rational thinkers. Spending money due to irrational fears really affects the entire political spectrum.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 6 Thumb down 2

  4. John Burgess says:

    Sixteen ounces is a pretty full bladder.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 2 Thumb down 0

  5. Neil Hudelson says:

    @superdestroyer:

    Yeah, and its really helpful that the article kindly labels the political persuasion of every person involved. I mean, they would have to, or else you would just be pulling bullsh*t out of your ass.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 4 Thumb down 3

  6. Matt Bernius says:

    In @superdestroyers defense, it is Portland.

    Of course that means that Fred and Carrie, or possibly the Mayor, were behind the decision.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 8 Thumb down 0

  7. superdestroyer says:

    @Neil Hudelson:

    Do you really think that are more than a handful of Republicans in Portland and that any of those Republicans are involved in making the idiotic decision to dump the water in the reservoir?

    When no Repubicans or conservatives are involved in the decision process, it makes sense to assume that the Democrats are being the idiots.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 4 Thumb down 3

  8. gVOR08 says:

    @OzarkHillbilly: I remember after 911 the head water official of NYC was asked if he was taking steps to prevent terrorists from poisoning the water supply. He replied simply – I’ve got X billion gallons out there.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 2 Thumb down 0

  9. rudderpedals says:

    It’s homeopathic urine. Dilution increases the strength, makes it tough like bull.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 8 Thumb down 0

  10. I hate to break it to Portland, but your open-air reservoir has the urine and feces of hundreds, if not thousands, of critters in it.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 5 Thumb down 0

  11. Neil Hudelson says:

    @superdestroyer:

    Business takes me to Portland about 60 to 90 days every year. Yes, there are a lot of Republicans–I have dinner with them all the time.** Yes, many of them work in government.

    **Off topic, but my very favorite person in Portland is a staunch, staunch conservative. I was having lunch with her once, about the time Obama came out in favor of marriage equality. Over the course of lunch, I turned her from ranting about how DARE Obama/Federal Government weigh in on something that should be up to the states, to ranting about how DARE a state government think they can define what constitutes a marriage–that is up to the church, or two the individuals involved. She is now a regular donor to the Human Rights Campaign.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 3 Thumb down 1

  12. Ron Beasley says:

    I am from the Portland area and this was for PR reasons. We have plenty of water here and the cost was minimal. Of course it was ridiculous, the water is treated after it leaves the reservoir. I live in a suburb south of Portland and we get most of our water from the Willamette river which is full of pollution of various kinds.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 2 Thumb down 0

  13. superdestroyer says:

    The presidential election results from 2012 show that Multomah County gave President Obama 75% of the vote to 21% for Romney and gave the nutcase Green Party candidate more than 1% of the vote (higher than the libertarian candidate). If what one Republican school board member in Arkansas is applied to all Republicans then what politicians do in a very blue area of the country is representative of the thinking of Democrats.

    http://web.multco.us/elections/november-2012-general-election-election-results

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 2 Thumb down 2

  14. Franklin says:

    I weep for this country. But don’t worry, I didn’t weep into any reservoirs.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 6 Thumb down 0

  15. Neil Hudelson says:

    @superdestroyer:

    That’s really all you have?

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 5 Thumb down 1

  16. al-Ameda says:

    @superdestroyer:

    So much for progressives being data driven, rational thinkers. Spending money due to irrational fears really affects the entire political spectrum.

    Floy Jones, co-founder of the group Friends of the Reservoirs, criticized the decision to drain, saying officials have no evidence any urine reached the water and it wouldn’t harm anyone if it did. ”It’s extremely wasteful,” she said.

    Are you saying that this progressive isn’t correct?

    If conservatives didn’t relieve themselves by urinating into the public water supply we would be having this discussion.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 3 Thumb down 0

  17. superdestroyer says:

    @al-Ameda:

    In looking up information on Ms. Floy Jones it appears that part of the issue with the water supply is that federal regulations mandate that it eventually be covered or additional treatment be added and that Ms. Jones does not favor covering the reservoir. I suspect that the bureaucrats leading the push to dump the water will use it as an excuse to push for covering the reservoir.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 0 Thumb down 1

  18. dazedandconfused says:

    @Ron Beasley:

    I looked up Portland water usage, averages between 80-110 million gallons a day.

    Not sure which is more silly; dumping it or believing 38 million gallons is a lot of water for Portland.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 2 Thumb down 0

  19. DrDaveT says:

    The saddest part, to me, is that this is over urine. Unless you are extremely sick, your urine is essentially sterile. There are many people in the world who routinely drink urine as part of some health fad or other. It would have been more dangerous to the water-drinking public for him to have bathed in the reservoir.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 4 Thumb down 0

  20. ike townsend says:

    @Neil Hudelson: nice fairytail neil. Do you change water into wine also?

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 0 Thumb down 3

  21. Neil Hudelson says:

    @ike townsend: Aww, I’m sorry if your oratory skills are low enough you’ve never been able to change someone’s mind.

    Dude, I run campaigns for a living. I earn my bread by doing two things: convincing someone (or a large group of people) that a certain issue is right, or convincing them that an issue is worth their money.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 4 Thumb down 0

  22. superdestroyer says:

    @Neil Hudelson:

    OK, how many elected Republicans are there in the Portland Area. I could not find any. This is in a state where the Republicans do not even bother to nominate people for some state wide offices and the Republicans run jocks like Chris Dudley for governor.

    If you know of a single elected or appointed Republican who is involved in the plant to dump an entire reservoir, then please provide a name. I cannot find any elected or appointed Republican in the greater Portland area.

    Portland and the surrounding area are clearly one party states and thus, the Democrats should accept total responsibility for not being data driven or rational.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 0 Thumb down 0

  23. Neil Hudelson says:

    @superdestroyer:

    You know I don’t know how Portlands civic government works, but I’ll be somwhat surprised if the decision maker in this was an elected official and not a bureaucrat.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 0 Thumb down 0

  24. bill says:

    @Neil Hudelson: of course there are republicans, someone has to generate money for the rest of the crowd!

    this comment seemed pretty snide though,

    “It’s easy to replace those 38 million gallons of water,” Shaff said. “We’re not in the arid Southwest. We’re not in drought-stricken parts of Texas or Oklahoma.”

    has this guy never been to socal?! at least we build lakes…..what a tosser.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 1 Thumb down 0

  25. dazedandconfused says:

    @bill:

    If you want to be really outraged, look into the massive watershed they set up. Right now with the spring run-off, my bet is it would take at least a 12′ pipe to handle the water they are simply let go into the lower Columbia right now.

    Store it in a pond? Google “Portland OR water shortage”.

    Hens teeth.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 0 Thumb down 0

  26. MarkedMan says:

    This story does not pass the BS test. It smells too much like that Republican trope during the Reagan years that the EPA made Fairbanks add pollution to their water so they could prove they removed a sufficient amount. Never happened but it was an absolute mainstay in the Republican fantasy world for years and was frequently repeated by mainstream but lazy media.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 0 Thumb down 0

  27. James Joyner says:

    @MarkedMan: The initial report I cited here was in USA Today, a fairly reputable source. Tracing it back, their story is based on a report by Portland’s Newschannel 8. That story links to the website of the Portland Water Bureau, which has updates about the story linked from the top of their homepage. Here’s the PWB accounting:

    The Portland Water Bureau provides the highest quality water, customer service and stewardship of our critical natural resource.

    Just after 1 a.m. Wednesday, April 16, 2014, Portland Water Bureau security staff observed on camera three men at Mt. Tabor Reservoir Number 5 in Southeast Portland. A 19-year old man was filmed urinating through the iron fence into the reservoir. Minutes later, the two other men, ages 18 and 19, attempted to scale the fence, with one successfully entering the reservoir.

    These actions forced the Water Bureau to immediately take the 50-million gallon Mt. Tabor Reservoir 5 off-line and test for possible contamination.

    A Portland Police Bureau officer and Portland Water Bureau ranger quickly responded. The three men were excluded from Mt. Tabor Park for trespassing and one man for public urination. Police will review the surveillance video to determine whether the men will be charged with a crime.

    David Shaff, Portland Water Bureau Administrator, reported that about 38-million gallons of drinking water will be discarded and replaced with fresh water from the Bull Run water supply.

    Water quality test samples from the reservoir were taken early this morning, with test results due back by Thursday, April 17.

    Shaff acknowledged the public health risk is slight, but says that the bureau will not serve purposely tainted drinking water to the public.

    “Our customers have an expectation that their water is not deliberately contaminated. We have the ability to meet that expectation while minimizing public health concerns,” said Shaff. “We will continue to provide our customers with safe, clean and cold Bull Run water.”

    Video surveillance and reports written by the Portland Police Bureau and the Portland Water Bureau will be submitted to the Multnomah County District Attorney’s Office for possible criminal charges.

    In 2006, the Environmental Protection Agency announced that all finished drinking water be stored in covered reservoirs. The City of Portland is in the process of complying with this federal mandate and Reservoir 5 on Mt. Tabor is slated to be permanently disconnected by December 31, 2015.

    That’s an elaborate ruse.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 0 Thumb down 0

  28. MarkedMan says:

    James, I stand corrected and eat an extra helping of humble pie for failing to follow the links. That was my responsibility, not yours.

    What were they thinking? I still think there has to be more to the story. Water people knows what goes into the drinking water naturally. I would love to hear what they were saying to each other outside of reporter’s earshot.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 0 Thumb down 0

  29. dazedandconfused says:

    @MarkedMan:

    Remember that line in “Men in Black” about a person being smart but people are dumb, stupid and panicky? The general public frequently acts, collectively, quite a bit like an extremely spoiled brat too.Here’s the formula wise civil servants use:

    Community Impact = actual impact x community perception of the impact raised to the 10th power.

    So, you have “deliberately tainted” water, at the same time you have a gross surplus of water. Since you are definitely going make an example out of this kid to discourage others from messing around the drinking water, there is going to be publicity.

    You are going to suffer some faux outrage, but you get to choose the type.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 0 Thumb down 0

  30. Neil Hudelson says:

    @bill:

    of course there are republicans, someone has to generate money for the rest of the crowd!

    Thumbs up for the chuckle!

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 0 Thumb down 0

  31. Pipes says:

    @James Joyner:

    This is very strange, in that this almost exact scenario played out a few months back – so similar in fact, that I almost knee-jerked into a response to the article about this being “old news” and what’s the purpose of digging it up now – proximity to Earth Day?

    After that event – also in the PNW as I recall – they had the same response of wasting the water…and were loudly and almost universally berated for doing so.

    So still, I have to ask…what are the ACTUAL motivations here? These people had to be aware of this previous event (even if it seems nobody reading THIS story of this event are), and had the benefit of experience to draw from, yet they supposedly did the SAME STUPID THING?

    Something stinks here – and it aint the urine in the reservoir.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 0 Thumb down 0