Idiots on parade: Portland water bureau's tenuous grasp of science

From ARStechnica and the stupid, it burns, department comes this ridiculous story of a bureaucrat gone off the rails. See the video that set off this pissing match below.

The city of Portland, OR will empty a 38-million gallon reservoir after a teenager allegedly urinated in it, according to the Associated Press. It’s the second time in three years that Portland is flushing its Mount Tabor reservoir after a urine-related incident.

The reservoir is open-air and sits exposed to all of nature, leading many parties to question how necessary a draining would be, or how polluted 38 million gallons of water can really be by a single man’s urine.

David Shaff, Portland’s water bureau administrator, reserves a special disgust specifically for human urine. In 2011, when Shaff drained the reservoir following a urination, he reasoned to the Portland Mercury, “Do you want to be drinking someone’s pee?… There’s probably no regulation that says I have to be doing it but, again, who wants to be drinking pee?” This time around, Shaff wrote in a statement, “Our customers have an expectation that their water is not deliberately contaminated.”

A half-liter of urine dumped in a 143 million-liter reservoir would get a urea concentration of about 3 parts per billion, according to Slate. (We calculated it would be a 50 nanoMolar solution.) Meanwhile, the EPA allows concentrations of arsenic in drinking water up to 10 ppb (never mind eating asparagus).

This all came about over this video showing a man taking a leak in the reservoir:

Gasp! And, fish pee in the water of that reservoir.



Maybe David Shaff, Portland’s water bureau administrator, doesn’t realize they have a water treatment facility for drinking water? From the Wikipedia entry

To treat the raw water, the bureau uses a process called chloramination, which disinfects the water with chlorine then adds ammonia to prolong the chlorine’s effectiveness.[28] Although these additives kill microorganisms such as coloform bacteria and giardia that can cause disease in humans, they can react with naturally occurring compounds in water to form other compounds such as trihalomethanes. Under provisions of the SDWA, the bureau monitors the levels of disinfectant byproducts to ensure that they remain under the maximum limits set by the United States Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and enforced by the Oregon Department of Human Services (ODHS).[29]

Since 1997, in response to targets set by the ODHS, the bureau has been adding sodium hydroxide to the water to reduce its potential for corroding lead and copper in home plumbing. The treatment, which makes the water less acidic, has resulted in “at least a 50 percent reduction in lead at the tap… ”. The target pH range is 7.8 to 8.0.[28]



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April 21, 2014 5:26 pm

All mass supplied water contains pee- anyone who has a yuck factor for recycled water can’t drink any public water or even spring water. Always “contaminated” in an insignificant manner.

April 21, 2014 5:30 pm

Article Title mis-spells Portland as Portand.
[Thank you. Fixed. Mod]

April 21, 2014 5:31 pm

Just a sign of the rampant lunacy that is endemic in Portland. I sometimes think there must be something in the water.
I am not really certain what this reservoir really is. From some of the comments the chief water-loon made, it sounds as if it may actually be treated water (already chlorinated etc), which in other parts of the county would be held in large closed tanks on the top of a hill or a tall tower.
They have plans to add a cover sometime in the future.
Even if it is pre-treated, and we ignore the birds crapping in it, garbage blowing into it, and the local mafia dumping bodies in it, there is still no valid reason for dumping the water given the dilution.

April 21, 2014 5:32 pm


April 21, 2014 5:33 pm

I suspect that the water folks were forced to listen to their attorneys. One of whom undoubtedly pointed out the bevy of nuisance lawsuits forthcoming from litigious lunatics who would claim various ailments traceable to human urine contamination.
A no win situation, really.
On the other hand, it is Portland, a dear place that exists only tangentially with our Universe and whose population spends most of their time in an alternate space/time continuum.

April 21, 2014 5:33 pm

Urine is semi-sterile. Might want to do some tests to see if the miscreant has an infection, disease, etc.

April 21, 2014 5:34 pm

And what about bird droppings and other stuff that end up in the same water …?

Bernd Palmer
April 21, 2014 5:34 pm

A large part of our drinking water comes from a nearby large lake. All used water from the region is recycled and flows back into the same lake. The lake hosts a considerable number of large passenger ships with diesel engines and literally thousands of motorboats. Yuck …

Bob Greene
April 21, 2014 5:35 pm

Heck, he doesn’t even have a concept of arithmetic. About 0.3 ppb non-water urine solids in the reservoir assuming it is well-mixed. A bit less if you consider flow through the reservoir diluting it and no plug flow. The cute part is that they dump the reservoir to a waste water plant. Waste water plants do not do well with slugs of clean, no BOD water, and if this reservoir was chlorinated…
This reservoir was a holding tank for the drinking water system. You don’t need a lot of “science” for this one, the stupidity comes under the “intuitively obvious to the most casual observer” category.

Lew Skannen
April 21, 2014 5:36 pm

This cluelessness reminds me of one of my hippy friends who had paraffin grease to prevent nappy rash for her baby but never used it because she did not like the idea of ‘chemicals’ being in contact with her baby’s skin all day/
She used make-up, deodorant, perfume, moisturizer and dabbled in the odd recreational drug of course, but drew the line paraffin grease!!

April 21, 2014 5:36 pm

I guess Portland has water to spare…

April 21, 2014 5:38 pm

I’d like to apply for this guy’s position. My qualifications are I’M NOT AN IDIOT.

April 21, 2014 5:46 pm

Come back, W. C. Fields.

April 21, 2014 5:46 pm

I had an interesting experience a few years ago. I was fishing on the shores of large lake in Canada. I got up and walked about 3 meters onshore and took a whiz. A park warden drove around the corner and “caught” me. He was quite disturbed that I wasn’t the required 8 meters from shore. As he berated me a moose walked out into the lake down shore and proceeded to offload a month’s worth of human pee. The warden said “humph” and walked away. And then there are beavers, muskrats, otters, mink etc.

April 21, 2014 5:53 pm

My back of the imaginary envelope calculation of number of creatures that ever lived divided by the number of water molecules on earth… lessee, carry the 4… gozinta pi x number of alligators in Alaska… taking the integral of coals in Newcastle… well I reckon every drop of water on earth has been through some organism’s bladder.
Now what is Portland going to do?

April 21, 2014 5:57 pm

This is emblematic of a greater problem. The cause—the calculator.
People try to make some qualifications which are so pathetic because they simply cannot quantify.
Symbols on a calculator are simply just that –symbols. They do not register as quantities,
So much climate stupidity arises from the fact there are often monumental exaggerations based upon minimal quantities.
A cursory understanding of climate science is that yes, there is a greenhouse effect and yes quantum mechanics suggests some feedback to the earth, but in the end the quantity of the effective feedback is minimal and there are so many unknown variables that the concept of a settled science is amazingly stupid.
The reason a decidedly ignorant person is in the position of relative importance is that the inability of the general public is growing.—- and the public cannot fathom the obvious.

April 21, 2014 5:59 pm

“David Shaff, Portland’s water bureau administrator,” probably believes Homeopathy results in legit medications.

Alan Watt, Climate Denialist Level 7
April 21, 2014 5:59 pm

The solution is to drink whisky instead.

I never drink water because of the disgusting things that fish do in it.
– W. C. Fields

April 21, 2014 6:04 pm

From the linked news story:
“The open reservoirs hold water that’s already been treated and goes directly into mains for distribution to customers.”
With that being said, it’s likely still stupid to dump the water. I work at a drinking water plant in Texas (reminder – the rules may be different in Oregon) and all drinking water is required to be sent to the customers with some disinfecting ability left in the water. Even a tiny amount of disinfectant in that much water would easily render the urine harmless. As others have stated, it obviously doesn’t have any trouble keeping the water drinkable even with all the animals that are sure to be doing the same in any open body of water.

Lew Skannen
April 21, 2014 6:05 pm

“We calculated it would be a 50 nanoMolar solution”
This is beginning to sound like homoeopathy denial!!

April 21, 2014 6:07 pm

Electrify the fence. : )

James Bradley
April 21, 2014 6:09 pm

Wow if that happened in Australia you would have people peeing in the reservoir every week and sending in videos just to verify the stupidity of the administrator.

April 21, 2014 6:13 pm

best shoot all the sea gulls aka “shzt hawks” that fly over the reservoir. and all the other birds and animals that pee and poo in the watershed…
Giardiasis (popularly known as beaver fever[1]) is a parasitic disease caused by the flagellate protozoan Giardia lamblia (also sometimes called Giardia intestinalis and Giardia duodenalis).[2] The giardia organism inhabits the digestive tract of a wide variety of domestic and wild animal species, as well as humans. It is a common cause of gastroenteritis in humans, infecting approximately 200 million people worldwide.
Giardiasis is passed via the fecal-oral route. Primary routes are personal contact and contaminated water and food. The more susceptible are institutional or day-care workers, travelers, those eating improperly treated food or drink, and people who have contact with individuals already infected.
It is a particular danger to people hiking or backpacking in wilderness areas worldwide, especially if they have no immediate access to medical supplies. Giardia is also suspected to be zoonotic—communicable between humans and other animals. Major reservoir hosts include beavers hence its nickname, beaver fever, dogs, cats, horses, humans, cattle and birds.

April 21, 2014 6:15 pm

This news story of political stupidity run amok reminds of that hilarious scene from the classic comedy Caddyshack:

“It’s no big deal”… LOL!

April 21, 2014 6:18 pm

Sir, have you no sense of scale?

April 21, 2014 6:24 pm

I hope they do not have any bears. He might mistake the reservoir for the woods.

Leonard Jones
April 21, 2014 6:29 pm

That was my thought when I first read the story! Now, imagine 350 PPM of piss or
Dioxin or even Cyanide.
Decades ago, I read a story in a Playboy magazine, in which the author claimed that
a teaspoon of Dioxin in Lake Superior would kill millions of people. The kid in the
story contributed a piss in a 38 million gallon bucket!

April 21, 2014 6:32 pm

So they are going to waste 38 Billion gallons of water to indulge the phobias of a single bureaucrat?

April 21, 2014 6:35 pm

Portlandia comes to mind. Here is essential viewing to understand Portland, city of my birth. I have the distinction of being Portland’s first and oldest baby boomer. I couldn’t be more mortified.

April 21, 2014 6:37 pm

CAGW is the 21st century intelligence test.
Our bureaus are shown to be heavily infested with fools and bandits. (As defined by the 5laws of human stupidity).
Such a decision over water purity is on par with damning 400 parts per million.
Or obsessing over a perceived global warming, less than the error bar of our temperature recording system.
Chicken Little is king.

Leonard Jones
April 21, 2014 6:39 pm

Samurai, that scene still causes me to piss myself laughing! A while back I was
working for a field service company as a Millwright. The company won a contract
to do repairs at a water treatment plant in Terminal Island California. We called it
the Turd Farm.
One of my coworkers coined the term “Snickers Bars” to describe the brown floaters.
This is what I was reminded of when I saw your post, and what I will always think of
for the rest of my life every time I pass a candy rack in a store and see a Snickers
I challenge anyone reading this to think of anything else!

Tom in Florida
April 21, 2014 6:41 pm

This is why I never drink “spring water”, you never know who or what has pissed in it. And, as I learned as a youngster, never eat yellow snow for the same reason.

April 21, 2014 6:42 pm

Can’t they ship it south to Cali? They could use it in food production
Also, cornstarch is best for preventing diaper rash

Gunga Din
April 21, 2014 6:47 pm

DonShockley says:
April 21, 2014 at 6:04 pm
From the linked news story:
“The open reservoirs hold water that’s already been treated and goes directly into mains for distribution to customers.”

Sounds like they’d be wise to invest in some underground clear wells.

April 21, 2014 6:49 pm

many people who get stuck in the desert have to drink their own whizz. But I like this beauracrat so much, that if we got stuck, he could have mine

Bill Illis
April 21, 2014 6:49 pm

Fish pee in the ocean.
Bears crap in the woods.
Polar bears crap on the sea ice.
Let’s [not] even bring seagulls into this.
Its too much.

Santa Baby
April 21, 2014 6:50 pm

There is a big system and a lot of money in taking care of human excrements. Earlier it was dumped on the fields as plant food. No it’s treated more like unnatural dangerous special substance? In India they usually use the fields as a big toilet, it’s supposed to end there any how.

Gunga Din
April 21, 2014 6:55 pm

I noticed the movie “Idiocracy” has been on TV in my area recently. I’ve never seen it. Was it set in Portland?

April 21, 2014 6:57 pm

“tenuous grasp of science”
tenous??? I think you are being waaaaayyyy to generous,Anthony.

April 21, 2014 6:57 pm
John Slayton
April 21, 2014 6:58 pm

Wonder if that is the same administrator who declined to give me access to take pictures of the COOP station at Headwaters Portland because he was afraid I’d mess up the chlorination system. I should’ve saved the correspondence….

April 21, 2014 6:59 pm

One day when my oldest son was 11, he was drinking a can of Pepsi. Looking for trouble, I asked him “Hey, getting your daily dose of birdshit extract?”
“No, seriously, look at the label. What’s in there?”
Reading from the can, “Filtered carbonated water, high fructose corn syrup, caramel color, natural flavor, phosphoric acid…”
“There you go!” I interrupted him. “Where do they get phosphoric acid from?”
Bright kid, watches science programs- “Uh, phosphate rocks?”
“Yes! And where do they get phosphate rocks from?”
(Frowning) “From islands in the pacific… oh, Dad, that’s disgusting!”
Troll Dad grosses out his kids by the Socratic Method.

Gunga Din
April 21, 2014 7:01 pm

Bill Illis says:
April 21, 2014 at 6:49 pm
Polar bears crap on the sea ice.

OT but maybe the increasing polar bear population and the resultant…um…”albedo” and not CO2 is responsible for the melting arctic? 😎

Box of Rocks
April 21, 2014 7:02 pm

How much urine did Adm Stockdale drink when he was a guest of the North Vietnam to prevent himself from being paraded as propaganda?

April 21, 2014 7:03 pm

Whats amusing about this is Peter Gleick said the same thing – that Portland’s action is absurd.
Its impressive to see stupidity so bonkers that it unites climate alarmists and skeptics in condemning it.

TImothy Sorenson
April 21, 2014 7:08 pm

They should just release a picture of it empty long ago. Then all of Portlandia will be delusional-ly happy.

April 21, 2014 7:10 pm

A 100 boys peeing in 38 million gallons would pose no threat. And what about the birds, bugs, frogs, etc. fly, hop, swim into and over it with even less regard for Portlandia’s sensitivities?
That is nearly $400,000 worth of water. Wasting it, as the city is doing, should be criminal.

R. Shearer
April 21, 2014 7:13 pm

On top of that, the reservoir is in direct contact with “carbon pollution.”

Matt Watkins
April 21, 2014 7:20 pm

If these kids lived in Gloucestershire, they would have been executed for the greater good. David Shaff should be fired, our water is deliberately contaminated daily from every wastewater treatment plant with an NPDES permit.

April 21, 2014 7:22 pm

Are you sure this isn’t an episode from “Portlandia”? 🙂
“Gasp! And, fish pee in the water of that reservoir.” Yes, that and other things that are possibly even less appealing, at least according to W.C. Fields.

Political Junkie
April 21, 2014 7:27 pm


Gunga Din
April 21, 2014 7:39 pm

Matt Watkins says:
April 21, 2014 at 7:20 pm
If these kids lived in Gloucestershire, they would have been executed for the greater good. David Shaff should be fired, our water is deliberately contaminated daily from every wastewater treatment plant with an NPDES permit.

Maybe Portland should just issue the kid a retroactive permit? After all, his discharge was already treated by a biological system.

April 21, 2014 7:59 pm

Sean Hannity Interview:
“Heaven is for real”…

April 21, 2014 8:01 pm

No biggy. Watermelons will love this because they don’t want that water in anything but a river heading pellmell for the ocean. All water MUST stay in the river. MUST!!!
Too funny. The year they put up fish screens and disallowed irrigation ditches to flow all season in Wallowa County was the year the salmon stopped spawning in all those ditches. We used to shovel them out of the ditches. Now they can only spawn in the main channel instead of the nice gravelly bed of smaller ditches. I am sure they like the main swift channel MUCH better.
Now the next problem. We don’t have as many salmon as we used to…

April 21, 2014 8:07 pm

This reminds me of the story about Arizona Snowbowl’s plans to use treated waste water for snow-making to keep the local economy humming in lean years. The NY Times and others wrote very slanted articles about it calling the water sewage. An employee of the treatment plant posted a comment stating that he would drink it because of its purity and that it was currently being dumped into the river where it improved the water quality.

Dave N
April 21, 2014 8:10 pm

It is scarier that the administrators of the City of Portland are allowing this complete moron to proceed; again.

Gunga Din
April 21, 2014 8:16 pm

Dave N says:
April 21, 2014 at 8:10 pm
It is scarier that the administrators of the City of Portland are allowing this complete moron to proceed; again.

A peecture is worth a thousand words.

April 21, 2014 8:23 pm

Doug Jones says:
April 21, 2014 at 6:59 pm
You sir, are an evil genius.
(Meaning wish I’d thought of that and wish my kids were still young enough that I could use it on them).

Gary Hladik
April 21, 2014 8:32 pm

“A half-liter of urine dumped in a 143 million-liter reservoir would get a urea concentration of about 3 parts per billion, according to Slate. (We calculated it would be a 50 nanoMolar solution.)”
Well yes, but if you put the problem in terms of Hiroshima bombs you’ll understand how truly serious this is.

Gunga Din
April 21, 2014 8:35 pm

Is it “Funny Friday” already?

george e. smith
April 21, 2014 9:30 pm

This thread is not my cup of tea.

April 21, 2014 9:38 pm

Earth has been around for several billion years. Life has been present on the planet for a good proportion of those billions of years. Most of that life has been passing the water of the planet through its various biological processes pretty much continuously for all that time. If you believe you can find water to drink on this planet which has not made numerous passes through various biological units, probably way to numerous to even attempt to count, you are suffering with terribly irrational delusions.

Jim Francisco
April 21, 2014 9:40 pm

Philip Peake says:
April 21, 2014 at 5:31 pm
“Just a sign of the rampant lunacy that is endemic in Portland. I sometimes think there must be something in the water.”
Anthony should collect these zingers and sell them. I laughed till I cried with this one. I was thinking that I will avoid going to Portland. My wife said she wants to go there.
Take my wife — please!

April 21, 2014 9:43 pm

Wow, I can remember being appalled when I took my first river trip down the Grand Canyon in 1979 that we were specifically instructed to PISS IN THE RIVER. This was a major adjustment because I’d spent much of the prior decade hiking and climbing around the American west and being specifically instructed to never do the same within 100 feet of any water.
The GC rules are still very much in force. Human urine is very nearly sterile. Some tiny viruses and prions can get through the kidneys in parts per billion which in that lake become parts per gazillion.
Before this beaurocrat will drink any of this water it will be halinated with Chlorine and maybe Fluorine (lovely elements) at a ppm or more. Otta killem.
This is the power of taboo.

April 21, 2014 9:45 pm

Wow the stupid does indeed burn. Do they think animals carefully move away from the water before peeing or craping? Thats what the water purification plant at the output of the reservoir is for.

Bob Koss
April 21, 2014 9:48 pm

What are they going to do with all the puddles that will remain after they drain the reservoir? Declare them piss-proofed?

John Vonderlin
April 21, 2014 9:51 pm

While a quick visit to Wikipedia’s articles on Urophagia and Urine Therapy will probably make those critical of the bureaucrat’s actions more incensed, I support his action. While the young man is now claiming he only pretended to urinate in the reservoir, it still remains a public perception problem, as several other commenters have noted. Thanks to a rainy winter, Portland is not wasting a vital resource, but merely responding to a disturbed public. When while dining in a fine restaurant you realize the caper in your pasta is instead a rat turd, I’m not sure many of us want the waiter to point out that nearly every food product has allowable limits of insect fragment and fecal contamination. Their tip is going to be related to the depth of their apology and the haste that they retreat towards the kitchen with the offending platter. I’m not sure that a public servant should be held to a different standard. I’d also mention for no particularly good reason that the only thing worse than biting into an apple and seeing a worm, is biting into an apple and seeing a half a worm. In finishing, I’d scold whoever above maligned my beloved Snickers candy bar, with whom I just celebrated my Diamond Anniversary. They were probably actually thinking of a Baby Ruth, with its undigested peanuts.

April 21, 2014 10:06 pm

Massive waste of a critical resource.

Ed, Mr. Jones
April 21, 2014 10:20 pm

Pee reviewed the latest Mann paper.

April 21, 2014 10:47 pm

The draining of the reservoir because someone urinated in it is even crazier than this blog claims.
First, unless the person has a kidney or bladder infection, human urine is sterile.
Second, the excrement from Oregon’s wildlife enters the reservoir. In particular giardia and cryptosporidium, both having much more relevance for human health than anything in a teenager’s urine.
Have a read of this report of water quality in Oregon. The persons responsible for the order to drain the reservoir does not appear to read the Portland Water Bureau’s reports or if they read the reports they do not understand their relevance to public health.

James Bull
April 21, 2014 11:07 pm

It is well known by many in London that the water they drink has been filtered by up to 7 sets of kidneys before it gets to them. In hot dry summers the flow on the Thames is little more than the outfall from one sewerage treatment plant to the intake of the next water treatment works. I think it’s called using water wisely.
James Bull

Larry Fields
April 21, 2014 11:09 pm

I imagine that Portland taxpayers are plenty PO’d at Shaff. Oh, bad pun! Bad Larry! *slaps own wrist*

April 21, 2014 11:18 pm

It is a absolutely ridiculous waste, but 38 million gallons (117 acre ft.) is close to insignificant. For example Californians Lake Shasta reservoir is currently holding 2,400,822 acre ft. (62% of average storage, what happened to the worst drought in history?)

April 21, 2014 11:46 pm

Imagine all the bird fly-over doo-doo. Don’t they treat their water?

Nigel S
April 21, 2014 11:49 pm

James Bull says: April 21, 2014 at 11:07 pm
That’s complete Bazalgette I’m afraid!

David Schofield
April 21, 2014 11:56 pm

Of course the water goes to a treatment plant before entering the supply. Flocculation (coagulation), sedimentation, filtration, disinfection and oxidation.
What matters is the quality and safety after treatment. This pee has absolutely no effect obviously. Just a PR exercise.

Man Bearpig
April 21, 2014 11:59 pm

I bet, just after they empty it, they will claim there is a water shortage because of global warming,

April 22, 2014 12:17 am

“This means that while the chances are that most of the water in your soda has never been in another soda, almost all of it has been drunk by at least one dinosaur.”

April 22, 2014 12:27 am

Nobody has yet mentioned rotted carcasses from both plants and animals, mostly after falling in the water and the mainly fungal processes used to rot them into soluble solutions. When the reservoirs run low, people are drinking stuff that scraped along the mud banks containing creatures most would run screaming from if they saw them in their glass.
My local reservoirs have few higher life forms living in them due to the tannins washed into them from the moorlands above. All from rotted plant life. nobody has yet ascertained any human peat bodies are preserved there but I guess a goodly few are undiscovered.

April 22, 2014 12:50 am

Urban legend has it that Londoner’s drinking water has already passed through seven other people’s bladders by virtue of the more upstream towns on the Thames!

April 22, 2014 1:36 am

When Harvard and the city of Cambridge needed water, they bought the water rights in small farming towns outside the city, and then proceeded to tell the farmers what they could and could not do. Officially you were not even allowed to wade in a brook. The farmers had too few votes to mount any sort of resistance. Therefore it was quite common to express contempt by peeing in a brook, and muttering something like, “Drink that, Harvard.”
The last of these farmers were vanishing when I was a boy in the 1950’s, when their towns were being transformed into snob-suburbs, however one memory of their contempt still remains. They didn’t think the “Commonwealth” of Massachusetts cared for the common man, and therefore when what now is Route Thirty was renamed “Commonwealth Avenue,” they refused to adopt the name. To this day “Commonwealth Avenue” becomes “South Avenue” at the Weston border, and then becomes “Commonwealth Avenue” again on the far side of town, at the Natick border.

Ed Zuiderwijk
April 22, 2014 2:36 am

There’s a reason for drinking beer.

April 22, 2014 3:01 am

I only drink pure water free of every impurity. Just pure H2O. It is expensive, but it tastes better than any other drink especially when chilled.
The guy pi**ing in the water supply should be put in jail because *his intent*, given that he does not know chemistry, is to make people drink his pi**. I.e. to taint the water supply. Which is a conspiracy to commit a huge crime. Although his lawyer would argue that he is too dumb to conspire to do anything.
As for the reservoir, the answer is simple. We should build a massive array of solar panels over the top of it. This will keep urine out and will produce clean energy to heat Al-Gore’s swimming pools with.

April 22, 2014 3:14 am

So now they are going to cover the lake? H-m-m. Will they have the perimeter guttered to catch the runoff? Where will THAT stuff get treated or should we landfill?
We need to run down the rabbit hole on this a bit more as the public needs safeguarded at all costs.

April 22, 2014 3:51 am

NPR reported on this last week, and even they questioned the logic of the decision as conveyed by City Commissioner Nick Fish. Fish is quoted as saying, “The professionals who report to me all said, ‘Dump the water. Don’t take any chances.’” I’d like to know the names of those professionals. They need to have their certifications suspended, pending the completion of remedial training and successful passing of a competency exam in industrial hygiene and public health. And Fish should probably be fired for gross incompetency – or stupidity.
The EPA limit for nitrates (the testable component of uric acid or pee) is 10 mg/L (or 10 ppm or 10,000 ppb) – . With the reservoir being 38 million gallons in volume and urine already consisting of 95% water, the guy would need to urinate 1.3 million gallons in a single voiding in order to achieve the 10 ppm “contaminated” concentration – .
Ignorance in action – especially considering portions of the west are experiencing drought. They should ask if any drought stricken community would like some pee water provided they cover the transportation costs. But that wouldn’t be as dramatic as dumping the water.

April 22, 2014 4:16 am

Robert Bissett, ” urine is semi-sterile”. The kidney produces an ultrafiltrate. It rarely lets even protein out. Unless you have a bladder infection, urine is essentially sterile.

David Chappell
April 22, 2014 4:22 am

City Commissioner Nick Fish
and what does he do in the water?

Chicken big
April 22, 2014 4:48 am

I don’t see Christopher Monkton in the comments. Would this be because the Portland pee concentration would be billions of times as concentrated as the active ingredients in the homeopathic medicine he advocates. To demonstrate the power of homeopathy, Monkton apparently is the world’s only inhabitant to be cured of Graves’ Disease, treated by his own medicine. By minimising the concentration of pee relative to the water, you all are showing how powerful the poison is, and how right the Portland supervisor is.
Skeptics! Next you will be telling me that 97% of scients don’t believe in homeopathy!

David, UK
April 22, 2014 4:52 am

This is not simply a case of idiocy. This is a case of someone with an OCD in a position which allows his condition to dictate irrational work decisions, increasing the buden on the local taxpayer. The guy should be moved to a position where his condition cannot do further damage – or else he should be forced to get help.
However, it does beg the question: where are this guy’s superiors in all this? Surely someone higher up should be overriding such insanity?

Mr Green Genes
April 22, 2014 5:14 am

suffolkboy says:
April 22, 2014 at 12:50 am
Urban legend has it that Londoner’s drinking water has already passed through seven other people’s bladders by virtue of the more upstream towns on the Thames!

One of them is me. I wonder of any of the other six are reading this.

April 22, 2014 5:32 am

Let’s not even mention to them birds poop in the water…

Clovis Marcus
April 22, 2014 5:56 am

If this _is_ treated water the idiocy is compounded. Throwing away the considerable resources used in making it potable is just irresponsible.
I spend a fair bit of time away from proper plumbing and am amazed at how touchy people are about their waste 😉 I did 8 months at a stretch living outside and when I did get back to civilisation it felt odd to go to a special little room to do what I needed to do 😉
On exped, your own fresh urine is fine for flushing a wound, if there is a shortage of drinking quality water and certainly safer than river water.
And Adam, you sound as daft as Shaff, are you from Portland?

April 22, 2014 6:04 am

i have always wondered why cities store TREATED water in an open reservoir.
why bother treating it first if you are just leaving it in a situation where it easily becomes just like it was before treatment.
glad I got a well and a generator for power outages.

Tom J
April 22, 2014 6:20 am

My Bobby lies over the ocean
My Bobby pees into the sea
My Bobby lies over the ocean
Don’t bring back my Bobby’s pee to me…
Don’t bring back, don’t bring back
Don’t bring back my Bobby’s pee to me, to me
Don’t bring back, don’t bring back
Don’t bring back my Bobby’s pee to me
Last night as I lay on my pillow
Last night as I lay in my pee
Last night as I lay on my pillow
Ok, I’ll stop ‘fore anyone crucifies me

April 22, 2014 6:23 am

Dopes. Much of the water taken out of the Mississippi down south for treatment has gone thru many sewage plants. That’s what the treatment plants to make it drinkable are for. Duh.

Jason Calley
April 22, 2014 6:33 am

SasjaLr says: April 21, 2014 at 5:34 pm And what about bird droppings and other stuff that end up in the same water …?
Ah, there’s the difference! Animals — good, natural. Humans — bad, un-natural. Only today’s confused culture could laugh at all religion but somehow retain the concept of original sin.

Gary Pearse
April 22, 2014 6:52 am

“A half-liter of urine dumped in a 143 million-liter reservoir would get a urea concentration of about 3 parts per billion”
It’s even stupider than that. Most of the half liter is water. Urine contains about 1% dissolved solids.

Craig Loehle
April 22, 2014 7:12 am

This is the “purity” mindset that views things as either clean or dirty, but the real world is always dirty. Please don’t tell them that fish die in a lake.
In Chicago we get our water from Lake Michigan, which not only has people who pee in the beach water while swimming, but has MILLIONS of fish that die each year, as well as boats on the water. OMG!!!

Richard Ilfeld
April 22, 2014 7:23 am

It may not be real science, or real smart, but it is real money. When we stop laughing, we can consider the economic wisdom of having a significant part of our economy in the hands of this pathetically unqualified person.

Steve in SC
April 22, 2014 7:48 am

Hate to bust the bubble but there are no fish in that reservoir. It is basically a holding pond for potable water sitting on the side of mount Tabor. Mount Tabor is basically a park and is a hill about 300 to 400 feet high above the surrounding landscape which is all city. My daughter lives about 12 blocks from there. That does not excuse the rank stupidity of the socialist elite that are in charge there. There are some civilized areas in Oregon (not including Eugene, Salem, or Multomah county.

Phil R
April 22, 2014 8:18 am

John Vonderlin says:
April 21, 2014 at 9:51 pm
“Portland is …merely responding to a disturbed public.”
Well, you got that part right. 🙂

April 22, 2014 8:25 am

This article got me thinking about some of the wildlife in the area which must come into contact sooner or later. Some may even poop nearby or drop dead in the reservoir. Apparently

Guide to the Mount Tabor Neighborhood in Portland, Oregon
“….it should be realized that birds, insects and wildlife contaminate the open-air unfiltered reservoir on a daily basis….”


Draining reservoir after urination incident shows tenuous grasp of science
Swonger also contested the cleanliness of the reservoir prior to his actions: “I’ve seen dead birds in there. During the summer time I’ve see hella dead animals in there,” Swonger told Vocativ. In 2011, Shaff told the Mercury that the reservoir is not shut down for nature’s transgressions. “If we did that, we’d be shutting it off all the time. We fish out animals or things that have blown in all the time,” Shaff said.

April 22, 2014 8:39 am

PLEASE dump the water into the Colorado River, Lake Mead is extremely low and any water will help!

April 22, 2014 8:50 am

“I never drink water. Fish [snip . . nuh uh, not here they don’t . . mod] in it.”
— W.C. Fields

April 22, 2014 9:10 am

After draining the reservoir are they going to scrub the bottom with Tidy Bowl?
Somebody needs to take the piss out of this guy.

April 22, 2014 9:24 am

General Jack D Ripper had the right idea.

April 22, 2014 11:27 am

It is interesting to note that the same thinking that led the officials in Portland to drain out hundreds of thousands of dollars worth of water has led them to believe the consensus view on global warming.

April 22, 2014 1:03 pm

The only thing I can think of is “Schildbürger”. It’s a series of tales about a city named Schilda, where the citizens do the strangest and most illogical things.
For example: one story goes how they transport wood over a hill. they carry it up, and carry it down on the other side. Then they accidentally drop some of the wood on the way down. They realize that rolling it down is faster than carrying it down.
So what do the good citizens of Schilda do?
They carry all the wood, including all of what they already transported down the hill, back up the hill and roll it down.

April 22, 2014 1:10 pm

Will blunders never cease… Portland deserves a knock-knock…
Knock Knock..
Who’s There?
Urine who?
Urine my reservoir, now go away….
(sorry….but somehow they deserve it)…

April 22, 2014 1:22 pm

“Edohiguma says:
April 22, 2014 at 1:03 pm ”
Reminds me of Alice’s Restaurant, and the Grand old Duke of York:
“and with tears in our eyes we drove off into the sunset looking for another place to put the garbage.
We didn’t find one. Until we came to a side road, and off the side of the side road there was another fifteen foot cliff and at the bottom of the cliff there was another pile of garbage. And we decided that one big pile is better than two little piles, and rather than bring that one up we decided to throw ours down.”

“Oh, the grand old Duke of York,
He had ten thousand men,
He marched them up to the top of
the hill and he marched
Them down again.
And when they were up they were up.
And when they were down they were down.
And when they were only half way up,
They were neither up nor down.”
Sleepless in Seattle, pointless in Portland…

Gunga Din
April 22, 2014 1:39 pm

To treat the raw water, the bureau uses a process called chloramination, which disinfects the water with chlorine then adds ammonia to prolong the chlorine’s effectiveness.

This statement may be misunderstood. While chloramines will maintain a residual longer than free chlorine, it is less potent and requires a longer contact time to be effective.
Someone please correct me on the time factor if my memory is faulty here, but say a given residual of free chlorine would take 10 minutes to disinfect a gallon of water, the same residual of chloramine might take 30 minutes or more.

April 22, 2014 2:38 pm

“Jim Francisco says:
April 21, 2014 at 9:40 pm
Philip Peake says:
April 21, 2014 at 5:31 pm
“Just a sign of the rampant lunacy that is endemic in Portland. I sometimes think there must be something in the water.”
Anthony should collect these zingers and sell them. I laughed till I cried with this one. I was thinking that I will avoid going to Portland. My wife said she wants to go there.
Take my wife — please!”
Well, they call Los Angele LA-LA land, they call Chicago Chi-town, why not call Portland P-land?

April 22, 2014 2:41 pm

“Leonard Jones says:
April 21, 2014 at 6:39 pm
… and what I will always think of
for the rest of my life every time I pass a candy rack in a store and see a Snickers Bar.
I challenge anyone reading this to think of anything else!”

April 22, 2014 3:04 pm

They need to completely protect their water supply. As it stands they are allowing a very potent greenhouse gas to enter the atmosphere. Their disposal effort will not keep this gas from entering the atmosphere. They have to ensure that the contaminated water will not enter the ocean or the entire world will be contaminated because to do so will contaminate all sea life. Then there is possible contamination by birds, particulate matter and toxic gasses like SO2, CO2, and methane to name just a few that could effect their water storage facility. Now they need to completely sanitize the entire water supply system to include all plumbing in their city. In the future they should only put carefully distilled water into their water system. How much is all this going to cost?

Jaakko Kateenkorva
April 22, 2014 3:16 pm

Australopithecus afarensis, Neanderthals and others ran out of bottled water.

April 22, 2014 5:34 pm

Reminds me of the Arrowhead Beer commercial on Youtube.

At the time, I didn’t think it was TRUE!

Leonard Jones
April 22, 2014 6:11 pm

The Arrowhead Beer commercial is a play on the old Olympia “It’s The Water” ad that
featured a kid pissing the lake.
PS since someone else quoted W.C. Fields, here is another joke.
A buddy of mine on an out of town job came to my hotel room and told me he
was just kicked out the hotel by the manager. I asked why he was kicked out?
He replied peeing in the pool. So I went to the managers office to argue on his
behalf. I told the manager a lot of people pee in the pool.
The manager replied “Yeah, but not from the high dive!”

Cold in Wisconsin
April 22, 2014 8:21 pm

My husband was a restaurant manager during the summer in college as he worked on his Food Science degree. An older gentleman, apparently some type of water snob, asked him, “What kind of water do you serve here?” To which he quipped, “We serve the wet kind, sir.” Very technical description.

April 22, 2014 9:51 pm

Astronauts have to drink their recycled/filtered urine.

Mac the Knife
April 22, 2014 10:41 pm

Cold in Wisconsin says:
April 22, 2014 at 8:21 pm
Cold in Wisconsin,
I grew up in Green Lake County WI. As a kid, we often drank the local creek waters and lake waters. One spring when I was maybe 12-13 years old, on a warm day when old snow is still found on the north face of hillsides and creek banks and the creeks are running cold and fresh, I had taken a long ramble across across the ridges south of my parents and grandparents farms. As I headed back north, I dropped into a creek bed and bellied down on the old dry grass along the creek for a long cold drink. After drinking my fill and wiping my face with my wetted bandana, I headed up the creek a bit looking for spring run suckers (red horse fish). We used to catch these by hand, when I was a kid, great fun!
As I slowly worked my way up the stream looking for fish in the small bank under cuts and waving weeds, I came around a little bend about 50 feet from where I had had my long drink. There, lying half in the creek and half out, was the rotting carcass of a long dead deer! Uuuurrrpppp! I had to ‘swallow’ several times to keep my loooong cold drink in place…… but it did me no harm otherwise.
That water was ‘the wet kind’ also.

April 22, 2014 10:54 pm

Thanks for posting this… Drives me crazy too….
3 PPB is in the ultrapure water level of water quality..The reservoir consists of ground water. The water hardness is about 90,000 PPB which is considered moderately (5 grains) hard…
It’s chlorinated for crying out loud,,
People in charge that are this ignorant is downright dangerous….

Brian Johnson UK
April 23, 2014 3:22 am

Makes me laugh when I think of Muslim Fundementalists quenching their thirst on Jesus’ piss [albeit strongly diluted!]

April 23, 2014 4:31 am

“Tom Murphy says:
April 22, 2014 at 3:51 am
NPR reported on this last week, and even they questioned the logic of the decision as conveyed by City Commissioner Nick Fish. Fish is quoted as saying, “The professionals who report to me all said, ‘Dump the water. Don’t take any chances.’” ”
Does anyone remember Namephreaks of Herb Caen (SF Chronicle)? Nick Fish making a decision on water dumping? (Another fish story?).

Reply to  Jeff
April 23, 2014 1:04 pm

They cannot just dump the water because it is infected. They cannot risk infecting any other bodies of water, the water table, or the oceans or they will have to disinfect those as well because they cannot take the chance. They must disinfect every molecule of what is in that body of water no matter what the cost because they cannot take chances They need to take this insanity to its logical conclusion. Most likely traces of such waste products have found their way into Portland’s water system so every pipe or surface that has ever come in contact with that water must be thoroughly disinfected and the entire system must modified so that this type of thing can never occur again. In the mean time all of Portland must be supplied with distilled water because their entire system is contaminated.

April 26, 2014 8:44 am

“Highly toxic disinfection byproducts (DBPs) form from reactions between pool disinfectants and organic matter, including hair, skin, sweat, dirt and… urine. In a new study, researchers mixed uric acid from human urine with chlorine and found it creates two DBPs: cyanogen chloride (CNCl) and trichloramine (NCl3).2
The former, CNCI, is classified as a chemical warfare agent and is a known toxicant to your lungs, heart, and central nervous system. NCl3 is linked to lung damage.
As for how dangerous this is, practically speaking, the researchers found that, in a worst-case scenario, urine in a pool might lead to about 30 parts per billion (ppb) of cyanogen chloride, which is well below the 70 ppb used as the maximum cyanogen concentration allowed in drinking water, according to the World Health Organization (WHO).”

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