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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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  • Frosty piss (Score:5, Funny)

    by Hognoxious (631665) on Sunday April 20, 2014 @05:16PM (#46801319) Homepage Journal

    literally.

  • by Anonymous Coward on Sunday April 20, 2014 @05:18PM (#46801333)

    Urine gets stronger the more you dilute it.
    The uncomfortable truth is that all the water has pee in it.

  • by HornWumpus (783565) on Sunday April 20, 2014 @05:19PM (#46801341)

    Every glass of tap water in LA contains a few molecules of water that have, relatively recently, passed through my bladder.

    The only people that don't have someone 'upriver', drink cattle urine instead.

    One exception, well water, usually nasty tasting. Plus the joys of insufficient septic system setback.

  • 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 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 ;)
  • 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 drolli (522659) on Sunday April 20, 2014 @06:27PM (#46801723) Journal

      Better nuke the reservoir form orbit, the only way to be sure.

      • by bondsbw (888959)

        Changing that plan a bit... maybe with a little less mass murder...

        Putting spent nuclear fuel in such a tank could kill many of the microorganisms and make the water safer for consumption.

        • by bondsbw (888959)

          (You know, ignoring the radioactivity of all the corroded stuff that might be in the water... meh, run it through a Brita, it'll be alright.)

      • by djupedal (584558)
        Better yet, nuke greater Portland and be done with it.
    • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

      by Anonymous Coward

      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?

      We don't filter the water. We have an EPA waiver not to have to filter our water. Only one in the country, since the water up in the Bull Run Watershed is so pristine (no human activity allowed in the entire watershed area, over a hundred square miles, 1/3 of the water is supplied by dew drip off of fir trees). Our water comes from the source much cleaner than would come out of the filtration systems used in other cities.

      • by AaronW (33736)

        Do they ban bears, birds, deer, etc? Just because there's no humans doesn't mean that there isn't poop and stuff in the water. Also, what about fish? I'm sure that the fish poop and have sex in the water.

      • by Solandri (704621) on Sunday April 20, 2014 @08:14PM (#46802213)

        We don't filter the water. We have an EPA waiver not to have to filter our water. Only one in the country, since the water up in the Bull Run Watershed is so pristine (no human activity allowed in the entire watershed area, over a hundred square miles, 1/3 of the water is supplied by dew drip off of fir trees).

        That doesn't change the fact that fish, birds, frogs, etc crap in the water. This whole thing is the same reason a lot of people believe in homeopathy - the idea that extremely diluted quantities of a beneficial substance still carry the same benefits. Homeopathy is basically the converse of the disgust reaction we have to inconsequentially miniscule contamination - the idea that extremely diluted quantities of a harmful substance still carry the same harm. The ISS has one of the most sophisticated water reclamation systems ever made, whose filtration provides cleaner water than what you get out of the tap. But people are still "grossed out" over the fact that astronauts are effectively drinking their own pee. Out of sight, out of mind.

        The environment is dirty, and our bodies are fully capable of surviving with that dirt. This incessant demand for absolute cleanliness is probably the cause of the rapid increase in allergy rates. The prevailing theory is that allergies are result of over-cleanliness. Our immune systems are supposed to gradually build up resistance and tolerance to all sorts of pathogens and contaminants. But our modern, ultra-clean standard of living deprives our immune systems of gradual exposure to those substances. Then when we encounter it for the first time, our body goes nuts and overreacts, causing an allergic reaction.

        Our water comes from the source much cleaner than would come out of the filtration systems used in other cities.

        The cleanest water you can get is distilled. You slowly raise the temperature to boil off contaminants with a boiling point lower than water. At the boiling point of water you're getting pure H2O. The residual is everything with a boiling point higher than water. While it's absolutely clean, it's actually bad for you because it lacks minerals and salts your body needs, and the lack of dissolved content means metal from the pipes carrying it leech into it at an accelerated rate. So it's instead packaged in plastic or glass bottles and sold in stores. Rainwater is effectively distilled, except it picks up a lot of contaminants as it floats through the air, then falls down to the ground.

        The next cleanest you can get is reverse osmosis filtered. The pores in the filters are so small that nearly all contaminants are removed. Like distilled water, it's actually too pure. They have to add minerals and salts back into it for health and taste reasons. While it's too expensive to use for most municipal water supplies, a few cities on islands or in extremely dry regions do use them to provide tap water.

        Then come the spring waters, which are naturally filtered through miles of sand and rock.

    • People get into high positions by rising as those above are destroyed in the public eye. Those above are destroyed in the public eye when they fail to respond to every absurd panic with equal panic and alarm. A rational leader is soon removed from power.

  • 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.

    • Frivoulous lawsuits are yet another problem too.
    • 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 . . .

  • What's that in something understandable? Like how many Olympic size swimming pools or Pacific Oceans?
    • by CBravo (35450)
      or libraries of congress, or liters
      • by Anonymous Coward on Sunday April 20, 2014 @05:40PM (#46801451)

        Oh, come on. Noone uses esoteric units of measurements like "liters"

        • by Maritz (1829006)
          The litre (note the spelling) is the most perfect unit of volume, being as it is half the volume of a big bottle of coke.
      • by Kaenneth (82978)

        rough estimate, about 60 times the volume of the 3 main Library of Congress buildings combined

        • rough estimate, about 60 times the volume of the 3 main Library of Congress buildings combined

          36 million gallons is about 140 million liters, or 140,000 m^3. 1/60th of that is about 2000 m^3.

          Are the three main Library of Congress buildings really as small as 700 m^2 (call it 7000 square feet) combined? Or did you drop a decimal somewhere?

          • Definitely. The first floor of the building I work in is 10,000. The government never builds anything that small.

    • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

      by Anonymous Coward

      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 olau (314197)

        Are you sure you got the calculations right? You seem to be a factor ten off. According to Google, 36 million gallons are about 136,000 m^3, which with a typical (Danish) household annual water usage is around 1000 households.

    • About 0.0000000000002 Pacific Oceans.
      Hope that helps.

    • by JWSmythe (446288) <jwsmytheNO@SPAMjwsmythe.com> on Sunday April 20, 2014 @06:22PM (#46801695) Homepage Journal

      1,505,144.03 cubic cubits. 57.575 nominal volume "Olympic size" swimming pools. 4,750,000 bushels. 25,313,380 imperial pints. 0.00000000000020300 Pacific Oceans. I hope that clarifies things. :)

  • by BlazingATrail (3112385) on Sunday April 20, 2014 @05:32PM (#46801411)
    Budweiser sent trucks to take some of the piss water away to make American style beer
  • I suspect the ambient daily bird and other critter droppings in the reservoir per day exceed what these stupid kids did. 38M gallons will dliute it all safely. only idiot public officials would worry about a miscule harm.
  • 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 @05:37PM (#46801443)

    Discussed to death on Bruce Schneier's blog. [schneier.com] Long story short: The draining is part of a political fight between two groups who want to control and monetize the water supply. All in a city of nuts who, in this day and age, drink untreated water direct from uncovered reservoirs and streams. A lot of things to worry and wonder about there...

    • by mbone (558574) on Sunday April 20, 2014 @06:32PM (#46801745)

      Ah, astroturf [waterreform.org]. That makes things a lot clearer [oregonlive.com].

      The biggest user of water in Portland is also the largest financial backer of a May ballot measure to strip utility rate-setting responsibility from the Portland City Council.

    • New York City water is untreated and it has some of the best water in the country.

      • 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.
      • by Smurf (7981) on Monday April 21, 2014 @01:04AM (#46803205)

        New York City water is untreated and it has some of the best water in the country.

        Really? Cause I've read otherwise:

        Before entering City pipes, all drinking water is treated with chlorine, fluoride, food-grade phosphoric acid, and sometimes with sodium hydroxide. Water quality and infrastructure are overseen by the City's Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) in coordination with the EPA and New York State 's Department of Health.

        Source [pwconserve.org]

  • by Noughmad (1044096) <miha.cancula@gmail.com> on Sunday April 20, 2014 @05:42PM (#46801461) Homepage

    Do you realize that in addition to urinating in water, why, there are studies underway to urinate in salt, flour, fruit juices, soup, sugar, milk... ice cream. Ice cream, Mandrake, children's ice cream.

  • by The123king (2395060) on Sunday April 20, 2014 @05:50PM (#46801507)
    Here i sit
    In awe and wonder
    Would chaff drain a lake
    For a bit of chunder

    For the amount
    The kid did pee
    Is in the reals of
    Homeopathy

    But doesn't chaff know
    Fish and birds
    Will fill the lake
    With piss and turds
  • by JustShootMe (122551) <rmiller@duskglow.com> on Sunday April 20, 2014 @05:59PM (#46801553) Homepage Journal

    I live in Portland. They'd probably allow it if he was a free-range drunkard with organic piss.

  • 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.
    • I think there are some rare cases where public opinion is wrong, and this would be one of them. I also think this is a horribly passive-aggressive way of doing it. If you feel that strongly, just set in motion the process of capping them, and if it fails, well, you tried.

      I keep thinking of places down south who need all the water they can get, and we're just wasting a whole reservoir full. That saddens me.

      (I live in Portland, but I'm in the Tualatin Valley water district, so it doesn't affect me much.)

      • I don't remember the exact details and I can't find the articles on the stupid website of the Oregonian but basically the process was sleazy. There was something about the way they awarded the contracts for the caping was inappropriate. The issue that I think pissed off the people trying to keep the reservoirs uncovered was that the Portland Water Bureau didn't bother filing the paperwork for an exemption from the Department of Homeland Security which then forced the City of Portland to cap/discontinue use
      • by Teun (17872)
        I agree, these reservoir should be covered because these piss artists need some privacy.

        Especially in a country that hides toilets and WC's behind doors marked Restroom, Ladies and Gents or even Powder Room.

      • I keep thinking of places down south who need all the water they can get, and we're just wasting a whole reservoir full. That saddens me.

        To put it in perspective, this is about two minutes worth of water use by the State of California. It's a long way from a significant amount.

    • by Valdrax (32670)

      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.

      What the hell... WHY?

      I used to live in Portland for about three years and regularly drank the tap water The idea that I was drinking water straight from an open-air reservoir post-treatment nauseates me. Why would anyone want this?

      • by Trepidity (597)

        Because there is so far no scientifically validated reason to think it's a health problem: the water is regularly tested at the point where it's drawn from the reservoir, to monitor the water quality, and it's of excellent quality. Water quality isn't some weird mystical thing that depends on what you personally find the right thing to do, but is measurable.

  • ...fish fuck in it.
  • If those parents had left well enough alone and never taught the kid not to pee in his pants the kid never would have done this. If it was a young girl I wouldn't bother to dump the water.
  • It's an open reservoir. Birds use it. That is true of the vast majority of terrestrial water supplies, at some point in their use cycle. (Water in Fairfax County, Virginia, for example, comes from the Occoquan River.) What more do you need to say?

  • 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.

  • Well there you have it. One man's costs are another man's revenue, after all, so don't explain with stupidity what you can explain with the sheriff boning the wife of the CEO of the company that cleans the reservoir. It's the least he can do to ease his guilt.

  • 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.

  • 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.

  • I have a solution this this repeated problem. They should run an electric mesh fence around the edge of the reservoir. When idiots decide to take a leak they will be in for a serious shock. If expense is an issue they can set up cameras and live stream then next idiot. The ad revenue of the video going viral should cover the costs.

  • My city's water supply comes from Shoal Lake, via a near 100 year old aqueduct. There are local reservoirs to store some in case of disruption.

    http://www.ryerson.ca/~amacken... [ryerson.ca]

    Of course the native bands that live there are not really happy about the whole thing.....

    http://www.winnipegfreepress.c... [winnipegfreepress.com]

    I rather expect a lot of them piss in the water quite purposely every day, and people here know it.

    It is an act of symbolism, but it does not stop normal people from drinking the water.

  • Fish shit in it.

    And birds, deer,bigfoot, bear, racoons. And since our city reservoir is a lake surrounded by residences, I'm sure numerous kids swimming the city park just don't bother getting out to take a whiz.

  • Does the Portland city water supply reservoir has special aqua johns for all the fishes and frogs and all sorts of things that live there? And where do *they* go?
  • by Arancaytar (966377) <arancaytar.ilyaran@gmail.com> on Sunday April 20, 2014 @08:45PM (#46802341) Homepage

    150mL urine in 150 million liters?

    1/10^9; that's a 9X potentiation! Holy shit, that piss would have been potent!

  • What is the qualification of the person that took that decision. I suspect once again we hit the problem of pure manager in charge of technical decisions.
  • 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.

  • by Dasher42 (514179) on Monday April 21, 2014 @01:11AM (#46803221)

    But every bit of water we've got has been dinosaur piss and shit at some point.

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