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Why Portland Should Have Kept Its Water, Urine and All 332

Posted by timothy
from the except-for-homeopathy dept.
Ars Technica has nothing good to say about the scientific understanding (or at least public understanding) that led Portland to drain 38 million gallons of water after a teenage prankster urinated into the city's water supply. Maybe SCADA systems shouldn't be quite as high on the list of dangers, when major utilities can be quite this brittle even without a high-skill attack.
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Why Portland Should Have Kept Its Water, Urine and All

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  • by Billly Gates (198444) on Sunday April 20, 2014 @05:25PM (#46801361) Journal

    Ignorant voters will fire anyone who is a member of the water board/district if it discovered they allowed piss to enter their facets.

    Unlike the corrupt state and federal governments the local ones actually listen to their constituents.

  • by silviuc (676999) on Sunday April 20, 2014 @05:26PM (#46801373) Homepage
    Fish crap in their drink along with frogs, birds and who knows what else. They have water treatment plants to make it drinkable, how the fuck do these morons get into such high positions?
  • by Anonymous Coward on Sunday April 20, 2014 @05:27PM (#46801381)

    The most important line in the article is the very last:

    The reservoir will reportedly cost $35,000 to clean

    $35k is nothing when compared to even the lawyer fees of a single potential frivolous lawsuit over this. All it would take is one kid getting sick (likely for completely unrelated reasons). And then they'd have to start publicly defending the decision to not clean it. I'm not saying the cleaning is the practical choice. Just that the absurdity of the U.S. legal system makes it fiscally irresponsible for the city to do anything else.

  • Re:Guard (Score:3, Insightful)

    by JWSmythe (446288) <jwsmythe@nOsPaM.jwsmythe.com> on Sunday April 20, 2014 @06:07PM (#46801595) Homepage Journal

    ... and just like urine in the water, it would take a lot of poison to have any impact on the supply.

    Viruses or bacteria that are chlorine resistant, on the other hand, could be a nasty problem.

  • Re:Guard (Score:5, Insightful)

    by tragedy (27079) on Sunday April 20, 2014 @06:39PM (#46801765)

    "Easily" poison 38 million gallons of water? See, this is exactly the same problem from the original article. A typical person drinks a lot less than 1 liter of water at a time, but we'll be generous to your poisoning idea and base our required dose of poison on 1 liter of water. Probably the most deadly known poison by unit mass is Batrachotoxin. In order to poison 38 million gallons of water so that every liter contains a fatal dose, you would need about 15 tons of it. 15 tons of poison produced by a particular species of frog, and then only when they eat a particular species of beetle, is pretty hard to come by. If you went with something more generally available, such as some form of cyanide, you'd need about 228 tons.

    So, your plan to poison the water supply is dastardly, evil, possibly even insidious... but not remotely practical. Sure, you could do it, but the expense would be high and the effictiveness would be relatively low since the water can be shut off centrally. You'd have a lot more luck just getting your henchmen to go on a rampage through the main street with conventional weapons.

  • by PolygamousRanchKid (1290638) on Sunday April 20, 2014 @07:24PM (#46801979)

    Obviously, the government is covering something up . . .

    . . . maybe the guy dumped a oil drum full of pure LSD into the water, before pausing to take a leak. The authorities are not mentioning the LSD to avoid panicking the public. You don't want to panic the public, while they are tripping their balls off.

    . . . or they spotted the Loch Ness Monster, and are draining the reservoir, to catch it in the shallows.

    . . . or maybe the guy showed signs of being a zombie, and they need to wait to see if he morphs into one.

    Ya gotta try to see through the headlines these days . . . the government is out to stuff you with disinformation . . . and they're always up to something not good . . .

    If you're in Portland, I would suggest just drinking pure grain alcohol . . .

  • Lol (Score:4, Insightful)

    by Charliemopps (1157495) on Sunday April 20, 2014 @07:53PM (#46802143)

    Lol... they're closing the resivour next year anyway:

    "Those natural contaminants are a key part of the Environmental Protection Agency's justification for a rule that requires all open-air reservoirs to be covered. Portland is scheduled to disconnect the open-air reservoirs on Mt. Tabor from the drinking water system by the end of 2015.

    Shaff said there isn't much the bureau can do about those natural contaminants in the meantime, and that they don't pose a serious health risk."

    http://www.oregonlive.com/port... [oregonlive.com]

    So this is actually twice as stupid as it sounds.

  • Re:Guard (Score:5, Insightful)

    by gyepi (891047) on Sunday April 20, 2014 @08:32PM (#46802275) Homepage
    Your calculation is way off, only 14kg of Batrachotoxin would be needed to render 38m gallon of water lethal, not 15 tons. One can carry that much in a backpack, not to mention that this is for doses that are lethal to everyone (if evenly distributed); much less would be sufficient to cause serious health issues for the majority who drinks from it.

    (According to wikipedia sources 100 microgram of Batrachotoxin is lethal for a 68kg person. 100 microgram in every liter of 144,000,000 l (=38m gallon) of water requires 144,000,000*100microgram = 14.4 kg poison.)

    This is of course not a justification for draining this amount of water from the pool every time the pool is micturated upon in the fair city of Portland.
  • Re:Guard (Score:5, Insightful)

    by thoth (7907) on Sunday April 20, 2014 @09:14PM (#46802429) Journal

    If I wanted to "easily poison" a water supply, I'd just form a corporation, say one that stores chemicals meant for coal mining, and build my facility near a river that supplies a small city's water supply.

    That way, not only would I get limited liability if there was an "unforseen accident", my corporation could declare bankruptcy and dodge all lawsuits.

  • by Dahamma (304068) on Monday April 21, 2014 @12:32AM (#46803099)

    Not true. From their site:

    How is my tap water treated?

    Bull Run water is not filtered.
    Chlorine is added to disinfect the water of any potential natural contaminants.
    Ammonia is added in a process called chloramination to ensure that water throughout the system meets federal and state drinking water regulations. Without ammonia the chlorine would evaporate by the end of the supply line.

    So, it's treated with chlorine and ammonia. And though it's not "filtered" in the decontamination sense, of course it's run through coarse filters to get large objects out of it before it goes into the pipes.

    The ammonia is especially ironic, since urea is basically what the body creates to make ammonia *less* toxic.

  • by Anonymous Coward on Monday April 21, 2014 @01:17AM (#46803239)

    Haha, no.

    It depends -where- the well is. There are entire communities that are on well water that is not farmland. Water there has a distinctly clean taste.

    Where I used to live, on one side of the river it was well water, the other side was chlorinated river water. Guess which taste gross? The chlorinated water. If you live all your life on well water, "city water" is disgustingly vile, that you won't even make coffee with it. After moving away from that place, I had to deal with two new problems:
    1. Disgustingly chlorinated city water (currently from a reservoir that is a drainage basin for creeks)
    2. Extremely low water pressure.

    The former, depends on the city. The reservoirs used on Vancouver Island, are pretty gross, owing to things like wooden pipes that leak in places, so they over treat the water so there is still treatment by the time it gets to the users. Vancouver itself is less gross, but you still smell chlorine in your sweat, and your colored clothing all gradually becomes a dingy grey or brown. (As opposed to well water which would leave a white hard-water crust on things if you left it vaporize, and required replacement of the hot water heater every 15 years.)

    The latter, is beyond my control. The well water was so powerful that it you didn't need to scrub so hard, just point the shower head. I've only ever been to one hotel that could match. Every place I've been otherwise the water ranges from wimpy to "what is this, a water fountain?"

    As for gross well water, that certainly exists, and you probably don't want to drink well water from farmland that has the well head more than 50' from the house. Septic fields usually cover a surface area 50% larger than the house itself, but will be (if built correctly) on the opposite side of where the wellhead is, down-stream of the water flow. So you may not get the crap you are flushing down the toilet, but you're certainly getting anything upstream, in trace amounts if it reaches the well. This is why fracking is huge problem.

    Fracking goes through the layer holding the well water, and contaminates it. If natural gas wasn't coming up before, it will certainly come up, along with fracking fluid compounds.

    FYI, anyone who runs a farm, gets their water trucked in, knowing damn well, that if they have any livestock, they don't want to contaminate them for human consumption.

  • by NotDrWho (3543773) on Monday April 21, 2014 @09:21AM (#46804699)

    I guarantee you that there is at least 100x as much birdshit in that water as that guy's piss. But no one ever complains about all the birdshit.

  • Re:Guard (Score:3, Insightful)

    by tacokill (531275) on Monday April 21, 2014 @10:20AM (#46805201)
    Only in your fantasy land.

    Great hyperbolic story about "evil corporation$" but not remotely close to what would really happen. If you tried to do what you claim, you would find the regulation, permitting, and legal requirements would far outstrip your ability to meet them. You want to build a plant by a river? Hah! The EPA says otherwise. You want to handle poisons? Hah! OSHA will be all over you before you start. You want to put water back into a river? Go see the EPA again. Wash, rinse, and repeat until all government bureaucrats for all government agencies are satisfied.

    Translation: you wouldn't even get to step 1 of your diabolical scheme because the world does not work the way you describe, even though it sounds great

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