Honestly, I first though it was a joke. The more I think about this story now, the less funny it gets, and the more tragic and frightening.
A security camera captured the image of a 19-year-old jerk urinating into Portland, Oregon’s Mt. Tabor Reservoir system, so “to be safe,” the city is dumping all 38 million gallons of drinking water. From Ars Technica:
“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.'”
That’s right: this is the second time Portland has done this. Slate does the “Wow, what an idiot!” math:
“…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 Environmental Protection Agency’s limit for arsenic in drinking water—arsenic!—is 10 ppb. The EPA doesn’t appear to have a limit for urine in drinking water, but it does limit nitrates in drinking water to 10,000 ppb, and urine does contain a lot of nitrogen, so let’s use that as a proxy. How many times would that teenager have to pee in a Portland reservoir to produce a urine concentration approaching the EPA’s limit for nitrates in drinking water? About 3,333 times.”
Yet even this doesn’t even scratch the surface of how cretinous the decision is. This an open reservoir, like we had in my home town of Arlington, Massachusetts. (It’s still there, and still open to the air.) We were allowed to swim in our reservoir. (I admit, that seemed odd to me even as a child.) But never mind, it’s open, see, to acid rain, and bird poop, and dead insects and spiders, and frogs, and water rats. Fish crap and die in it; dead birds float in it. Almost all of these ucky things are more dangerous than urine, which is pretty much bacteria-free.
Another boob in the chain of command, the Water Bureau head who is amusingly named Fish, told reporters,
“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.”
1. “I didn’t have a choice“—Rationalization #25! (But rationalizations are the least of this sad crew’s problems…)
2. What “professionals?”I suppose it should be a surprise that idiots hire idiots, so those professional who report to Mr. Fish were probably wearing clown shoes and missing their foreheads. None! The estimated cost of this insanity has been variously estimated at $20,000 to $40,000, but that’s the least frightening part of the story.
3. What “risk?” Well, Portland is being run by Mo, Larry and Shemp, who are certain that the Portland public is so stupid that it will freak out when it finds out that some kid peed in the water. Though the same public has been drinking water with far worse in it and should have realize that every time they looked at their reservoir, the Portlandians will scream for the stooge bureaucrats’ heads if “something” isn’t done to protect them from the deadly urine. That’s the potential risk that Fish is talking about—the risk to his job and his pension and benefits and perks. So he and Schaff will waste tons of water and literally flush money down the drain, all to ensure that they can keep their jobs and the power to make more stupid and irresponsible decisions.
See, guys, if you really know “you’re likely to be criticized no matter what,: then you might as well do the intelligent, responsible, right thing. That would require being capable of recognizing it, though…never mind. I’m being unreasonable.
These are exactly the kinds of people in charge of all aspects of our lives in government agencies local and national, large and small. They are fearful, easily confused little men and women driven by a need for security and an avoidance of blame, and still we are told, and still smart—well, smarter— people believe, that we need, for the good of society, and the poor, and the children, to entrust more and more of our lives, money and freedom to them, when this is the kind of decision-making acumen they bring to the task.
I can only explain it by presuming that we don’t want to believe that we are placing our welfare in the hands of the likes of Fish and Shaff, so we just don’t, that’s all.