PORTLAND, Ore. (TheBlaze/AP) — The entire treated contents of one of Oregon’s largest city’s reservoirs was dumped after a teenager was filmed urinating into the supply.
Though the water was tested and found to be clean, 38 million gallons were flushed, making it the second time in less than three years the city has gone to such lengths to keep its water pure.
In June 2011, the city drained a 7.5 million-gallon reservoir at Mount Tabor in southeast Portland. This time, water from a different reservoir at the same location will be discarded after a 19-year-old was videotaped in the act.
“The basic commandment of the Water Bureau is to provide clean, cold and constant water to its customers,” bureau administrator David Shaff said Wednesday. “And the premise behind that is we don’t have pee in it.”
Watch this footage from the water authority’s surveillance camera showing three men with skateboards trespassing on the property (Note: no graphic content is seen, despite the clear indication that the teen was urinating through the iron fense into the water):
The open reservoirs hold water that has already been treated and goes directly into mains for distribution to customers.
The urine poses little risk — animals routinely deposit waste without creating a public health crisis — but Shaff said he doesn’t want to serve water that was deliberately tainted.
“There is at least a perceived difference from my perspective,” Shaff said. “I could be wrong on that, but the reality is our customers don’t anticipate drinking water that’s been contaminated by some yahoo who decided to pee into a reservoir.”
“I didn’t have a choice. I don’t have the luxury of slicing it too thin when there’s a potential risk, however small, to public health,” Portland City Commissioner Nick Fish told the Oregonian. “Frankly, it’s one of those calls where you know you’re likely to be criticized no matter what. The professionals who report to me all said, ‘Dump the water. Don’t take any chances.’ It’s the conservative but correct call.”
The water will be drained into the sewage system, eventually reaching a treatment plant before it’s dumped into the Columbia River.
In the meantime, Shaff said the city has plenty of water to meet demand.
“It’s easy to replace those 38 million gallons of water,” Shaff said. “We’re not in the arid Southwest. We’re not in drought-stricken parts of Texas or Oklahoma.”
The incident occurred shortly after 1 a.m., when Water Bureau security personnel noticed three men on camera at Mount Tabor Reservoir No. 5. One was seen on video urinating through an iron fence, officials said. Minutes later, two other young men attempted to scale the fence.
The three men, whose names have not been released, were cited for trespassing and excluded from Mount Tabor Park. A 19-year-old was cited for public urination.
The Multnomah County District Attorney’s Office will decide whether to pursue criminal charges.
The kidney-shaped reservoir built in 1911 is drained for cleaning each spring and fall. The spring draining was done about three weeks ago, the Water Bureau said.
The reservoir is one of five the city is in the process of replacing with underground storage to comply with federal regulations.
Floy Jones, co-founder of the group Friends of the Reservoirs, criticized the decision to drain the reservoir, saying there’s no evidence any urine reached the water and it wouldn’t harm anyone if it did.
“It’s extremely wasteful,” she said.
The man who urinated into Portland’s water supply in June 2011 eventually pleaded guilty to misuse of a reservoir and was sentenced to community service.
Update: Officials later decided not to dump the millions of gallons of water. Instead they transferred the water to another, previously empty reservoir to conduct an experiment in seeing how long it could be kept clear in an above ground reservoir. The water still won’t be used for human consumption.