Talk about wet bandits …

Three Oregon teenagers are in tepid water after security staffers with the Portland Water Bureau observed, via surveillance camera, the trio trying to gain access to the city's 49 million-gallon capacity Reservoir 5 — one of three active above-ground reservoirs located within the confines of Mt. Tabor Park in Southeast Portland — at 1 a.m. on Wednesday morning.

Two of the skateboard-toting teens, ages 18 and 19, attempted to scale the fence around the perimeter of Reservoir 5 (one was successful). The third teen, a 19-year-old, allegedly opted to instead urinate through the wrought-iron fence and directly into the reservoir, which provides the city with clean, treated drinking water.

As a result, the Portland Water Bureau has taken the reservoir off-line and made the decision to flush approximately 38 millions of potable water into the Columbia River — that's enough H2O to fill 57 Olympic size swimming pools. The draining and cleaning process will take anywhere between four to six days. To add insult to injury, the reservoir had just been drained and treated to a biannual cleaning.


An announcement, which also includes taped footage of the teens' antics, released by the Portland Water Bureau admits that the health risks involved with the pee breach are “slight.” However, the Bureau abides to not “purposely served tainted water to the public.” 

Elaborates David Shaff, Portland Water Bureau administrator: “Our customers have an expectation that their water is not deliberately contaminated. We have the ability to meet that expectation while minimizing public health concerns. We will continue to provide our customers with safe, clean and cold Bull Run water.”

All three teenagers were quickly wrangled up at Mt. Tabor Park and cited with trespassing; the offending pee-er was also cited with public urination. The teens have also been banned from Mt. Tabor Park for 30 days. Criminal charges are not out of the question.

Shaff elaborates to the Oregonian:

When you see the video, he’s leaning right up because he has to get his little wee wee right up to the iron bars. There’s really no doubt what he’s doing. It’s stupid. You can see the sign that says: ‘This is your drinking water. Don’t spit, throw, toss anything in it.’ He’s four feet away from that sign. Unless he’s from North Dakota and just moved here, he’s got to know that’s our drinking water.
Dumping millions of gallons of perfectly good drinking water due to a few ounces of errant teen urine (keep in mind that the Mt. Tabor reservoir is open — much like a massive, uncovered swimming pool — and no doubt receives more than a few duck poops on a daily basis) is a cringe-worthy solution no matter the geographic location. But at least this is Portland, a famously drizzly and damp city with the exact opposite of a drought problem. If this were to happen somewhere in Southern California, you can’t help but wonder if the outcome would be much different. At the very least, the pee-teen would be tarred, feathered, and run out of town instead of slapped with a citation.

Naturally, the Portland Water Bureau has been criticized for its actions with Portlanders complaining that the dumping of 38 million gallons of drinking water was an egregiously wasteful overreaction and also perhaps insensitive considering the H2O-strapped circumstances elsewhere on the West Coast. Nick Fish, the Portland City Commissioner who oversees the Water Bureau, defends the agency's actions, calling them “conservative but correct:”

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. 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. 

We know we'll get criticized for this, but we have to put public health first.

Oddly enough, this isn’t the first time that someone has tinkled into one of the historic reservoirs (the kidney-shaped Reservoir Number 5 was built in 1911) at Mt. Tabor Park. Three years ago, a full-bladdered perp decided to relieve himself into the much smaller Reservoir 1, located uphill from Reservoir 5. That incident, which resulted in the flushing of 8 million gallons of treated water, cost the city $35,000. It’s unclear how much this latest fracas will cost the city.

Also, during a particularly sweltering stretch of weather during the summer of 2008, a couple of young lovebirds were booted from Mt. Tabor Park after being caught bathing, sans clothing, in one of the reservoirs. Authorities opted not to drain the reservoir after that incident as it was not actively in use at the time. 

My question to you: Pee-contaminated tap water obviously isn't something that you want flowing through your faucets. But given the extremely slight risk of the public being affected in any way by this incident, do you think the Portland Water Bureau did the right thing by discarding millions upon millions of gallons of perfectly fine potable water?

Via [The Oregonian] via [The Atlantic]

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Matt Hickman ( @mattyhick ) writes about design, architecture and the intersection between the natural world and the built environment.

Portland flushes 38 million gallons of water after teen tinkles in reservoir
Portland authorities faced a tough decision this week: Drain a reservoir or provide residents with tap water that a teen peed into?