News Feature | May 16, 2014

Portland Criticized For Flushing Reservoir After Man Urinated In It

Sara Jerome

By Sara Jerome


In a water safety decision that drew intense public criticism, Portland officials drained Mt. Tabor Reservoir last month after a man urinated in it. 

Nick Fish, the top official at the Oregon city's water bureau, said he anticipated the criticism, which centered on charges that officials had overreacted.

"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," he said in 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."

Water officials reacted "immediately" after the incident, and "pipes carrying water to and from the reservoir were cut off," the New York Daily News said. Test results showed no contamination or health risk before the reservoir was flushed. 

commentary in Slate called the decision "illogical."

"Several smart people on Twitter quickly did the math and figured that a typical urination of about 1/8 gallon in a reservoir of 38 million gallons amounts to a concentration of 3 parts per billion. That’s billion with a b. For comparison, the EPA’s limit for arsenic in drinking water—arsenic!—is 10 ppb," the commentary said.

Washington Post commentary deemed the decision wasteful: "I realize that some Portland residents may just be disgusted by drinking the water unless the reservoir is flushed, isn’t there some cheaper way of dealing with such incidents — perhaps by pointing out to people that the water is safe to drink, and that life can’t be lived under clean-room conditions?"

The commentary also noted that this decision was not exorbitantly expensive. "To be sure, this seems likely to cost only about $20,000; the water is apparently rain-replenished, so we’re just talking about other flushing and processing costs. Still, it seems like $20,000 wasted," the analysis said. 

Portland residents are known for being picky about their drinking water. "Portlanders are so rabidly protective of their drinking supply’s purity that they voted – not once, not twice, but four times – to keep fluoride out of their water. The most recent vote was last May, and the measure lost by a landslide," the Los Angeles Times reported

Portland is alone among major U.S. cities in its stance against fluoride, the Oregonian reported

For more oversight news, check out Water Online's Regulations and Legislation Solution Center

Image credit: "Silver Silences,"  Sarah_Ackerman © 2010, used under an Attribution 2.0 Generic license:

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