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Apr 21 2014

Teen denies urinating in reservoir

Once again we have a situation in which the city of Portland, Oregon dumped all the water in its reservoir, all 38 million gallons of it, because cameras seemed to show that someone has urinated into it. After observing the group of five young men near the reservoir, police went out there and arrested three of the men and charged one of them.

This is not the first time this has happened. Three years ago the city dumped 8 million gallons after another man urinated into it. In 2008, a man and a woman were caught skinny dipping in the reservoir but oddly enough, the water wasn’t dumped then.

The 18-year old accused of the act this time denies that he did it and furthermore is incredulous at the city’s response, saying that the reservoir contains all manner of dead animals.

There is something irrational about our ideas about what is clean and unclean. I drink water straight out of the faucet though I know that it comes from Lake Erie and spends time in containment tanks for purification purposes and then passes through ancient pipes before reaching the home. Who knows what is in it? In our minds we all know that the water contains impurities and urine is probably one of the least harmful since it consists mostly of water anyway, even leaving aside the fact that millions of gallons of water will dilute almost any accidental impurity to levels that are undetectable.

This is one of those situations where it is better not to think too deeply about it or to realize that we cannot, and indeed should not, live in an antiseptic world. And yet this kind of thing still freaks people out, even people who should know better like the Portland Bureau administrator who gave the order to dump all the water.

22 comments

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  1. 1
    permanentwiltingpoint

    As W.C. Fields said: “I don’t drink water. Fish fuck in it.”

  2. 2
    Marcus Ranum

    The 18-year old accused of the act this time denies that he did it and furthermore is incredulous at the city’s response, saying that the reservoir contains all manner of dead animals.

    Good kid.

    Meanwhile, city officials are negotiating with birds and bugs not to poop in the water.

    I read somewhere there’s a good chance – something like 10% – that any given cup of water contains water molecules that passed through Napoleon Bonaparte’s kidneys. That made me think that there’s a good chance if you drink a gallon of water you’ve probably got a pretty star-studded batch of molecules: Alexander the Great, Socrates, Caesar, Hitler, Buddha, maybe even Jesus if he existed!

  3. 3
    Dave, ex-Kwisatz Haderach

    WC Fields said that? I got it from an episode of Archer.

  4. 4
    Trebuchet

    …then passes through ancient pipes before reaching the home. Who knows what is in it?

    Lead, in all probability. Among other things.

  5. 5
    Dave, ex-Kwisatz Haderach

    According to one of my university profs (sewer design course), hollowed log pipes were still in use in the older areas of London, Ont until very recently. As a contractor, we’ve replaced kilometers of lead and asbestos cement pipe in the last couple years. Really, the less you think about where the water was before it got to your tap, the happier you will be.

  6. 6
    Holms

    Amazingly, the officials seem to be aware that there is all manner of non-human piss in there:

    “Even though there is very minimal public health risk, the bottom line is that our commitment is to serve water that’s clean, cold and constant,” said Water Bureau administrator David Shaff. “That doesn’t include pee. Not from people, at least.

    Goddamn amazing.

    Also, I can assure you that any one idiotic enough to do such a thing here in Australia would be facing criminal charges; although, such a thing is so unthinkable here with our unreliable reservoir recharge, that I had never even considered that it was possible to be so silly until I heard of it happening in England a few years ago.

  7. 7
    sc_770d159609e0f8deaa72849e3731a29d

    Really, the less you think about where the water was before it got to your tap, the happier you will be

    It depends on whether the water is hard or not- hard water quickly lines the inside of the pipes with minerals that are harmless or even beneficial to human health.
    Not so good for the central heating, though.

  8. 8
    mudskipper

    Those of us who live in California are aghast at this waste of water. We’d gladly take it, even if an entire football team urinated in it.

  9. 9
    Marcus Ranum

    We’d gladly take it, even if an entire football team urinated in it.

    But then you might collectively fail your steroid tests!

  10. 10
    DaveXreally

    This is a result of too many people believing in homeopathy. What is this, a 4C “potency”? https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Homeopathic_dilutions indicates this is a permissible concentration of pure arsenic.

  11. 11
    Jockaira

    What’s worse than tossing 38 million gallons of potable water?

    How about tossing 38 million gallons of water that had been dutifully collected, stored for several weeks, treated for human consumption, and stored again waiting to be released for human usage…all this at the expense of the water utility’s customers (probably taxpayers too!)

    Not only does this represent a massive waste of perfectly good water, but also a massive waste of money, labor, and facilities.

    I understand that many Portlanders have homeopathic beliefs and anti-fluoridation tendencies. I hope they know just how much this collective stupidy is costing them in dollars and denied health benefits.

  12. 12
    Richard Simons

    Then there’s Windhoek, where 8% (or more) of the drinking water is recycled sewage and has been for decades.

  13. 13
    JPS

    One of those game warden “reality” TV shows included a segment where the wardens participated in an occasional removal of dozens of wild geese from a river/reservoir, the animals were removed because they left about a half-pound of poop in the water each day. Then they gave a fisherman a hard time for pissing over the side of his boat (in the same body of water), because “this is drinking water”.
    Proportions, anyone?

  14. 14
    moarscienceplz

    I saw a science show a while back where Los Angeles area water engineers conducted focus groups to see if they could get public acceptance for adding treated sewer water to the water supply. They concluded they could, if they injected the treated water into the ground aquifer and then pumped it out of wells later. Ironically, this would actually make the water dirtier than when it came out of the treatment plant.

  15. 15
    permanentwiltingpoint

    @ Dave, ex-Kwisatz Haderach

    Well, most often it gets ascribed to him. Maybe it’s authentic, maybe not.

    Re plumbing: During my BSc geosciences, we had a lab course analysing water samples, which we brought from home. One of my samples had twice the amount of lead legally permitted, but it was from a tab not often used. Bath and kitchen, with the same pipes but in daily use, were Ok. It’s when the water stands for a while things get nasty. If you don’t trust your plumbing, you can let the water run for half a minute before using.

  16. 16
    WMDKitty -- Survivor

    Well that’s just stupid.

    Run the water through filters, it’ll be fine!

  17. 17
    busterggi

    Does a bear shit in the woods?

    Does the runoff go into the reservoir?

  18. 18
    trou

    I live in Portland and know a little about this story. In the winter we get too much water coming into the reservoir and the Water Bureau is continually dumping water. Since they were doing this they decided to empty it so that the public wouldn’t be concerned. They aren’t stupid but do have to deal with some stupid people. It didn’t cost them a dime to do it. Those of you who live in areas that have to conserve your water may react to the thought of wasting this water differently than those of us fortunate enough to live on the edge of a rain forest. (Although we get our water from Bull Run which is near Mt. Hood . Still, we get a lot of water around here).

  19. 19
    BecomingJulie

    That’s about 170 million litres! So if his bladder held 500 ml., then that’s a dilution of 340 000 000 : 1; or, to put it another way, in each litre of water from the reservoir, there would be just shy of 3 nanolitres of this guy’s urine.

    And those 170 million litres of “contaminated” water probably are going to create a disposal problem in their own right.

  20. 20
    Lea

    in each litre of water from the reservoir, there would be just shy of 3 nanolitres of this guy’s urine.

    So that would be 3 parts per billion, or we might say, 3 pee pee b.

  21. 21
    richardrobinson

    Don’t forget that the urine itself is mostly water.

  22. 22
    StevoR : Free West Papua, free Tibet, let the Chagossians return!

    @12. Richard Simons :

    Then there’s Windhoek, where 8% (or more) of the drinking water is recycled sewage and has been for decades.

    Plus the International Space Station which recycles its “nightwater” and other grey water. I gather the unit that recycles the waste water was to be named after Colbert following an online competition even?

    @17. busterggi : “Does a bear shit in the woods?”

    Depends on the species. At least one ursine variety – Ursus maritimus – defecates on polar sea ice.

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