Governments' Lighter Side

Reservoir dog

Portland’s Water Bureau has a bit of a mess on its hands, wondering what to do with 38 million gallons of water, which was contaminated by the urine of a 19-year-old prankster. 

A few weeks ago, a security camera caught the teenager peeing through an iron fence into the Mount Tabor Reservoir No. 5. Water Bureau Administrator David Shaff said after watching the video, there is little question as to what the teen was doing, The Atlantic reports. The police caught up with the teen, and cited him for trespassing and public urination. But that’s not the end of it.

The big question has now become 'What do you do with 38 million gallons of urine-tainted water?'. According to The Atlantic, drinking the water doesn’t pose much of a health risk, as the urine is quite literally a drop in a massive bucket. Shaff says animals urinate into the reservoir often, and it isn’t a problem, due to the city’s water treatment methods.

But how would you feel slurping down an ice-cold glass of Portland’s water after watching this? And that is exactly Shaff’s point, according to The Atlantic. “I could be wrong on that, but the reality is our customers don't anticipate drinking water that's been contaminated by some yahoo who decided to pee into a reservoir," he said.

So do you just pull the preverbal flush lever and be done with it? That’s the city’s solution, but critics argue it seems seems a terribly wasteful one, according to the Washington Post’s Volokh Conspiracy blog. 

Volokh writes, “I’m pretty sure that lots of nasty things already make their way into the open-air reservoir, including animal urine, animal feces, dead animals and who knows what else. That’s nature for you. If the water (processed in whatever ways Portland, Ore., normally uses) is safe to drink despite that, I’m pretty sure it will be safe to drink even when one person’s urine is mixed in, as a test after the incident seems to report.”

But Portland City Commissioner Nick Fish, who is in charge of the Water Bureau, told Oregon Live that flushing the reservoir is the right call. “I didn’t have a choice. I don’t have the luxury of slicing it too thin when there’s a potential risk, however small, to public health,” he said. “Frankly, it’s one of those calls where you know you’re likely to be criticized no matter what."

He adds, “The professionals who report to me all said, ‘Dump the water. Don’t take any chances.’ It’s the conservative but correct call.”

Water Bureau officials do not know how much it will cost to dump the water, a process that will take four to six days, according to Oregon Live. Bureau crews already gave the Southeast Portland reservoir its seasonal cleaning, but will perform essentially the same process again.


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What's Governments' Lighter Side?

It is an irreverent take on local and state government news.


Derek Prall

Derek Prall is a professional journalist who has held numerous positions with a variety of print and online publications including The Public Manager magazine and the New Jersey Herald. He is a 2008...
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