With one act of public urination, a recent high school graduate stimulated more math and logic activity than the organizers of Math Awareness Month ever could have hoped.
The act was caught on surveillance video April 14th at 1:11 AM. The Water Bureau turned off Mt Tabor Reservoir #5 while staff considered what to do. The decision was made, backed by Commissioner Fish, to flush the teen's bladderwork rather than serve it to Portland customers. Comments on OregonLive buzzed with calculations of pee concentration. The value of the 38 million gallons of water to be dumped was reckoned to be anywhere between $4 trillion and maybe only $772.
A week passed and a million gallons went down the drain, when someone thought to use the tainted water to test the nearby, vacated, open Reservoir #6 as a water feature. So for now, the urine is headed over to #6 to hang out so #5 can be refilled with fresh water.
How could a teenager manage to pee in city drinking water so easily? Portland has a few historic iron fenced open air reservoirs built in 1911. After 9/11, the city was ordered to cover them or install an expensive filtration plant. Portland chose 'none of the above' by deciding to decommission the open reservoirs and to preserve them as scenic water features - A win-win-win solution. (The "Proposed Mt. Tabor Reservoir Project" can be found on the city's website.) So, before long, the teenager will have to find a different place to go potty.
Why not just leave the precious water where it is, compel people to use it, and avoid the cost of refilling? Surely there must be some way to bash City Hall! Please provide your answer, minding these assertions:
THE COST. It's raining. Snow is melting into the Ten Billion gallons of water already in the Bull Run Watershed reservoirs, and hundreds of millions of gallons regularly flow through Bull Run to the Sandy and Columbia Rivers. An ingenious conduit designed a century ago feeds Portland's reservoirs from distribution points high in the Mount Hood forest. There's little cost to replace the water in Reservoir #5. Gravity is free.
Factor this: Portland water doesn't have a given dollar value. The retail rate for customers is set to cover the operation of the system. (The water is pure gold to companies that bottle it. They can make beer or cola or use it for manufacturing -- more on that another time.)
THE RISK. True, there's little danger to a pint o'pee in millions of gallons. Toxic chemicals are harmless when so diluted, they say. Adolescent commenters love fish pee and poop, duck and goose crap, and other bathroom humor. People from outside Oregon tell us that boats put motor oil in the water, people swim in it, ... "It's river water!". We can ignore out-of-state folks who have such sorry water supplies. Testing warns us when any serious contamination shows up.
Yes, fish do potty up in Bull Run Lake, before the water is treated. And bears go potty in the woods - on the moss-covered forest floor. But, there is by nature very little biotic action in the Bull Run. Check out Bull Run River on Wikipedia. There are no fish in any water tanks or reservoirs in the Portland area. It's a natural system that pretty much takes care of itself, and that's the beauty of it. It's an incredible resource.
What the commenters are missing, in their fervor to bash City Hall, is that Bull Run is a world class Brand. Would Bridgeport Brewing want everyone to know that Portland is OK with drunks taking a leak in their brewing water? I think not. There may be zero risk in urine, but a million or billion molecules in every pint of IPA is not something to advertise.
Portland did the right thing to protect our valuable brand, at little cost, by moving the water aside and bringing in fresh. No matter what City Hall did, the internet was going to Howl.
Homework: How can we graduate responsible citizens from high school? How can we educate residents about the source of our water? While this all happened, Earth Day came and went. Go figure.
John Miller is a quasi-retired computer scientist and independent iOS developer living in Southwest Portland. He toured the Bull Run Watershed last summer along with fellow Portland Visitor Information Center volunteers.
I deliberately didn't go into the details of the cost of the chemicals that must be used to treat the replacement water. The cost could be considerable, but not prohibitive. Perhaps Mr Schlonger could work some of that off?
Mentioning Computer Scientist leaves you wide open for attack. :^)
To solve some problems, you may need to know how many gallons are in a cubic foot, how many pints in a gallon, and so on. Or how many cubic feet of water are in a gallon. LoL :^)
Chloraminatethe 38 million gallons of replacement water. What is the source and cost of the ammonia and chlorine used? No data is available. Go find it.
Contribute more math problems via email to john at timehaven.us.
Contribute logic problems via email to john at timehaven.us.
Develop story about a plan to sell bottled Bull Run water to California and use 100% of the profit to somehow provide water to Kenya where people are dying of thirst.
Had the bureau decided not to flush, people probably would have criticized that decision using the data and logic I'm presenting, saying: "We have plenty of water, I don't want to be reminded of that jerkwad every time I take a drink".
Personally, I don't want a single molecule of that teen's piss in my beer or coffee. He's messing with one of the primordial elements this local economy is based on!
What's disturbing is that absolutely none of the comments questioned how our culture produces a high school graduate with no ethical / moral conscience or whatever -- respect - for a public drinking water source.
Less disturbing but understandable is the public's seemingly total lack of knowledge about how their water system works: Wilderness reservoir → treatment → conduit → urban reservoirs → distribution to taps. No filtering. Some historic reservoirs are open, Link below to plans to decommission them. This is not the kind of thing explained on reality television. The Oregonian would do a service by publishing a simple infographic. (Sewage could be given similar 'treatment'.)
Measure 26-156 backer(s) cannot not say how proposed water district board would handle this situation. How would YOU explain your decision to your water customers?
Portlandia skit: Mayor decides this is a
opportunity to market Portland tourism.
Male members of the council line up to pee in the reservoir for a photo op, captioned: "Come to Portland! Pee in our Drinking water! We won't mind!" It could become quite an attraction! (According to recent on-line analyses, thousands could line up and do it WITH NO PROBLEM!)
I wish there was a nice info-graphic that showed the component of the system
So anyway let's assume they only have to open a value to drain the res, then open other values to let fresh water come in from the Bull Run system, etc. Amazing, eh?
Cost of chemicals.
Cost of cleaning the reservoir. Some guys get in there and sweep it down and rinse it. That won't take a lot of effort this time, since this was just done recently. It's said that the same two (?) guys are on the payroll "anyway" and we are just talking about a couple days work. I bet they could get some volunteers or inmates to do it for nothing. (Including the jerkwad teen and his buddies.)
Cost of processing the fouled water. Nothing, since we assume it's just got urine in it. They are metering it out slowly so as not to disrupt the normal operation of the massive sewage treatment plant for the area - the Portland Waste Water Treatment Plant (on Google Maps). Some reporter evidently demanded a cost value for the previously incident (2011) and got a reply of ~$20K. This would be the cost of processing that much raw sewage, but this isn't full-on sewage, just an increase flow, so I don't know where that $ figure came from.. somebody's guess. (Hold the Press! The wanter wasn't dumped, it was shunted over to another reservoir. Ignore this cost for now.)
On the reported sewer plant cost. (See above note about shunting the water to a different reservoir. It's not going to the sewage plant just yet.) I assume somebody (at the city?) figured the cost on the "retail" rate, just like people were making simple calculations about the "value" of the water being dumped. They look at their monthly water bill and figure "Holy Shit" that's a ton of $$$$ they are dumping... But, #1. Their water bill is largely the cost of sewage treatment (and that is shown on the bill), and #2.. the retail cost of the water is set to cover the operation of the whole water system, NOT to pay back nature for any water. BTW, your sewer rate is determined by your winter water consumption. That indicates how much your family uses for washing, etc, but not watering the garden.
Sorry I don't have hard cost numbers. But from what I can tell, the cost of the chemicals divided by the number of customers of the system is about as minuscule as the pee in the reservoir. Pennies per household.
How much is a world class brand worth? I'm coming to think that the decision wasn't only correct, it was genius. After the guffaws quiet down and people realize that Portland can actually flush a reservoir like other places flush a toilet, they may wonder what kind of VooDoo we have here. Stuff like this doesn't keep the tourists away -- "sounds like these guys are serious about their water!" The only problem we have is simple-minded inter-tweebs and local folks who are looking to make a quick joke. I'd like to have $1 for every bird poop pee comment there is in discussion threads out there.
Don't Fluoridate, Urinate!