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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 MindPrison (864299) on Sunday April 20, 2014 @05:26PM (#46801371) Journal
    ...all the time. It's all psychology, it's human urine - therefor it is oh so terrible. Think of all the bird-droppings, huge flocks of birds flying by...doing their thing. They carry far more diseases with them than we dare to even think of, never-mind mention in the news. But human urine? Yuck ;)
  • Lanted Ale.. (Score:5, Interesting)

    by malkavian (9512) on Sunday April 20, 2014 @05:36PM (#46801433) Homepage

    Back in the "old days" (medieval), Beer was preserved by adding Lant, to give Lanted Ale.
    Lant is stale urine, and it acted as a marvelous preservative. So, adding urine in this fashion to that volume won't be a problem. It's just one of perception..

  • by Anonymous Coward on Sunday April 20, 2014 @05:41PM (#46801459)

    I know you might be joking, but it's about 100 acre-feet, which is roughly the annual usage of 100 households. Portland has 250,000 households so we are talking about 4 hours' worth of water for the city of Portland.

    That is part of the reason they are so willing to dump the water. If it were 10,000 acre-feet they would certainly not be dumping it.

  • by windwalker13th (954412) on Sunday April 20, 2014 @06:07PM (#46801593)
    This is not the first time that Portland has emptied a reservoir. This is the only time that it has made national news. One of the times that they drained the reservoir was for when somebody was attempting to pee in it and it was unclear if the intoxicated individual had actually urinated into the reservoir.

    The reservoirs in Portland are a bit of a contentious subject. We Portlanders greatly appreciate our open air reservoirs however the City Water Bureau does not. Despite a large public outcry to keep our open air reservoirs our water department despite saying that they were working to keep our reservoirs, did not file for a waiver from the department of homeland security to keep the reservoirs open air. While most Portlanders recognize the importance of controlling access to our water supply we wish that the water department listened to public comment more and acted less like a dictator.
  • by RubberDogBone (851604) on Sunday April 20, 2014 @06:42PM (#46801795)

    This is a classic example of governments and problems. When some sort of problem is identified, and "the people" want action to happen, the government has two choices to deal with the problem.

    One, they can take appropriate action, if they can do that and know what to do and how to do it. Even better if doing so is relatively cheap. In this case, you do the cheap thing to make it go away.

    Two, they can do everything in their power to suppress knowledge of the problem. A problem nobody knows about is one that doesn't need to be solved. This is especially important if the problem is big or serious, or affects a lot of people in a negative way, and to which the government has no solution. The only thing worse than a big problem is having "the people" aware of it and that their government is unable to act. So is is essential that the government take this route when they cannot solve the problem or don't know how, or can't afford the solution. Or there's some other reason they don't want to solve it but they can't admit that either.

    So type one problems, you dump the reservoir. It's cheap to clean it out and, well, water is cheap anyway.

    A good example of type two problems are the side effects from the chemical disposal mishandling at Groom Lake. To admit the problem exists would invite a huge liability mess. So by denying it, they avoid the problem. Because they can.

    It has been speculated one reason the governments generally dodge the UFO issue is that if they were ever identified as a real force(s) of some kind, then the people would demand that something be done about stopping it. It's not clear anyone would have the ability to DO anything about it and when your government can't protect you, what good is the government? So a problem like this would have to be denied.

    Thankfully there are no UFOs. So this is not a problem.

  • by zorro-z (1423959) on Sunday April 20, 2014 @07:28PM (#46801995)

    According to the City of Portland's Website (http://www.portlandoregon.gov/Water/article/328963), the total capacity of the Portland reservoir system is about 220 million gallons, with "distribution storage reservoirs" ranging in size from 1000 to 10 million gallons. How much urine did this kid evacuate into the reservoir? According to the National Institutes of Health (cites in Livescience- http://www.livescience.com/323... [livescience.com]), the average healthy human bladder can hold "nearly 2 cups of urine comfortably."

    Let's err on the side of caution on both sides- assume that this kid both had an insanely huge bladder capable of holding 2-1/2 cups of urine *and* that he peed into a 1000 gallon distribution storage reservoir- the worst-case scenario, in other words. 2-1/2 cups of urine is 20 ounces, which is equal to 0.156 gallons (128 oz/1 gal). 0.156 gallons/1000 gallons = 0.00015625- 0.00156% pee in the reservoir. And this is *before* the processing that happens to all water *after* it exits the reservoir and before it enters the city's pipes.

    The reason this is absurd is the same reason that fear of poisoning a city's water supply via open reservoirs is stupid: you'd both need so bloody much of whatever it is to have a significant amount *and* that something would have to survive various filtration, purification, etc. processes after that.

    No, scratch that... draining a reservoir b/c a kid peed into it isn't absurd, it's mind-blowingly stupid and a horrid waste of taxpayer money. Any lawyer who couldn't defend against a lawsuit the way I did above deserves to not only be disbarred, but to also have his college + HS diplomas revoked.

  • by Alsn (911813) on Sunday April 20, 2014 @09:46PM (#46802517)
    "Untreated" when referring to drinking water is an incredibly vague statement. Where I live, the city of Helsingborg, Sweden the water is "untreated" in the sense that it is pumped as is from a lake 80 km away through a long tunnel. It is then pumped into the groundwater at the edge of the city where it is pumped up and into the city's plumbing system which supplies almost 100k households.

    It's untreated in the sense that no artificial chemicals or filtering is taking place, but soil sediment filtering is one of the most ancient and effective ways of filtering water so there is a massive difference compared to an untreated open air reservoir where pretty much anything can go die and decompose.
  • Both sides are silly (Score:4, Interesting)

    by Barlo_Mung_42 (411228) on Sunday April 20, 2014 @10:42PM (#46802715) Homepage

    Yes it's silly to dump all that water just because of a tiny bit of pee but it's also silly for people to say "Oh, but LA is sooo thirsty."
    Water is a local resource. It can't just be piped down to LA. And for the people of Portland it's not that much water. When I lived there one thing I never needed to worry about was saving water. It rains a lot there. 38M gallons is about 20 seconds flow of the Columbia river. My water bill was so low as to be negligible; I literally never had to think about it. That may be hard for people in drier parts of the country to grasp but there's no reason to Portland should feel bad. For all we know that reservoir was due for a cleaning anyway.

"Irrationality is the square root of all evil" -- Douglas Hofstadter

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