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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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.

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

Philip Peake

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.




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.

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


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

Bernd Palmer

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 …

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

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!!


I guess Portland has water to spare…


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


Come back, W. C. Fields.


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.


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?


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.

Jeff Alberts

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

Alan Watt, Climate Denialist Level 7

The solution is to drink whisky instead.

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


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

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


Electrify the fence. : )

James Bradley

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.


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.


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

“It’s no big deal”… LOL!


Sir, have you no sense of scale?

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

Leonard Jones

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!


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


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.

john robertson

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

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

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.


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

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.


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

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

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

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


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

John Slayton

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….

Doug Jones

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

Matt Watkins

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.


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.