Polluting the drinking water

Jonathan Turley has an interesting story of someone who was caught urinating into an open reservoir that served as the source for a city’s drinking water supply. While authorities are looking into whether the man should be prosecuted, the more interesting fact is that the city decided to dump all the stored water, nearly 8 million gallons of it, as a result.

This is one of those situations where people’s perceptions of how bad something is trumps any rational thinking, similar to how the fear of being harmed by a terrorist attack makes people willing to give up major rights and become subservient to the government, when that threat is tiny compared to (say) dying in an automobile accident.

Almost all of urine is water so roughly 10 ounces of urine in 8 million gallons would have untraceable amounts of non-water body waste. In addition, an open reservoir would be getting numerous sources of pollution from other animals and vegetation. I once visited the Cleveland water purification plant and was given a tour by one of my former students. Cleveland has the reputation of providing high quality water to its residents and I believe it and drink it straight from the tap without any further filtering. But when you visit the plant, you quickly realize that what we drink is hardly 100% pure,

In fact, astronauts in the Space Station depend upon recycled waste water for drinking and that much of our water is retrieved from sewage.

And yet many of us seem to have this romantic notion of the perfect water cycle in which the impure water in the ground separates itself from the impurities by evaporating into the atmosphere, coming down as pure rain, and then out of our faucets. Most of us shut our eyes to the fact that our drinking water is not perfectly pure H2O and indeed should not be because the impurities also provide us with some of the minerals we need. But the thought of a tiny amount of urine in water is so icky, and people are so repulsed by it, that when the fact cannot be hidden, the people in the above city took the extraordinary step of wasting so much water.


  1. eigenperson says

    Although 8 million gallons is a lot of water in some sense, it’s actually only 24 acre-feet, which is insiginificant relative to Portland’s water consumption. These are really tiny reservoirs.

    Dumping it is still idiotic, and whoever made that decision should be removed from management and not allowed near any water supply ever. They could just leave the water in the reservoir for a little bit longer than usual — the urine will be transformed into algae long before it reaches anyone’s tap.

    Alternatively, since this seems to happen with some frequency, they could consider adding a filtration system for those reservoirs, which are located in the middle of Portland, and therefore more likely than average to be contaminated by humans.

  2. machintelligence says

    Surely this is a raw water reservoir,and the water will be treated prior to distribution. Treated water is almost always stored in covered containers to prevent post-treatment contamination and the loss of residual chlorine.
    That being said, as I recall Chicago didn’t treat the water supplied to the North side of the city until 1968. They just pumped it in from about four miles out in Lake Michigan.

  3. Who Cares says

    If they are so afraid of this why is the reservoir open? I mean the amount of bird droppings and other stuff dumped in it daily would dwarf the amount that this guy put in.

  4. Lassi Hippeläinen says

    “Don’t drink the water – the fish fuck in it”

    (Seen on a T-shirt years ago.)

  5. One Day Soon I Shall Invent A Funny Login says

    The same people no doubt are happy to swim in the municipal pool…

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