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Old 17th April 2014, 08:29 AM   #1
Ixion
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Portland Reservoir to be drained

I was browsing news stories this morning, and came across this one:

Portland Reservoir to be Drained After Teen Pees in Water


Basically, if you don't want to read the article, a CCTV captures a young man urinating into a water reservoir. The teen was caught and officials are now going to drain all 38 million gallons of the reservoir in order to "clean up" the offending act.

Now, this seems like a very costly overkill to me. First of all, I doubt that a couple hundred milliliters of urine in 38 million gallons of water is enough to contaminate it, provided that the urine has a substance in it that can contaminate it. Just based on a rough back-of-the-napkin calculation, you are very unlikely to even get a single molecule of urine in a gallon of reservoir water if it was distributed evenly. Secondly, I assume the cost of doing this will be passed onto the taxpayer. I can only imagine the price tag for such a clean up operation.Thirdly, I assume that the reservoir water is pre-treated with filters and other sanitation methods such as oxygenation prior to arriving at people's homes, so it should be safe to drink anyways. Finally, it seems like this kind of press just exacerbates people's fear of terrorist activity (or maybe it is a product of that fear) and creates a situation where the act of saving face becomes more important than any critical thinking about the safety of the public. Is my line of thinking misled?
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Old 17th April 2014, 08:37 AM   #2
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Quote:
Just based on a rough back-of-the-napkin calculation, you are very unlikely to even get a single molecule of urine in a gallon of reservoir water if it was distributed evenly.
200 ml in 38 million gallons is about 1 part in a billion. 1 gallon is what, 1026 molecules of water? I don't think your calculation is right.

But certainly yes, it's crazy to do that when the reservoir is exposed to animals doing exactly that in it anyway. edit: and I meant to say it's obviously still a very low concentration too.
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Old 17th April 2014, 08:45 AM   #3
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Originally Posted by edd View Post
200 ml in 38 million gallons is about 1 part in a billion. 1 gallon is what, 1026 molecules of water? I don't think your calculation is right.

But certainly yes, it's crazy to do that when the reservoir is exposed to animals doing exactly that in it anyway. edit: and I meant to say it's obviously still a very low concentration too.
You are probably right. My calculation is probably a bit off.
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Old 17th April 2014, 08:55 AM   #4
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Originally Posted by Ixion View Post
...you are very unlikely to even get a single molecule of urine in a gallon of reservoir water if it was distributed evenly.
What if its homeopathic urine? Now every molecule in the reservoir is pee!
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Old 17th April 2014, 09:15 AM   #5
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Originally Posted by Segnosaur View Post
What if its homeopathic urine? Now every molecule in the reservoir is pee!
Oh, its worse than that. The kid was probably drunk. So, this was a safety measure to prevent the entire city getting drunk when they had their morning glass of tap water.
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Old 17th April 2014, 09:20 AM   #6
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Good thing no other teens have peed in the reservoir, ever.
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Old 17th April 2014, 11:05 AM   #7
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I believe I read that this is already treated water that goes directly to customers without anymore treatment. It is still a ridiculous waste of fresh water.
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Old 17th April 2014, 11:07 AM   #8
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Only happening because of the ick factor. Bet the kids learn about parts per billion.
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Old 17th April 2014, 11:10 AM   #9
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Originally Posted by MostlyHarmless View Post
I believe I read that this is already treated water that goes directly to customers without anymore treatment. It is still a ridiculous waste of fresh water.
For water freely in open air ? If a teenager can urinate in it, bird, rat can die and decompose in it. So I am doubtful of the above. Gut feeling would be that water is stored in that reservoire before treatment and distributed after treatment immediately. I could be wrong though.

Last edited by Aepervius; 17th April 2014 at 11:11 AM.
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Old 17th April 2014, 11:13 AM   #10
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From the article:
Quote:
Generally, urine in such a large volume of treated water poses little risk to the public, and even animals are known to answer the call of nature into the reservoir, which gets its water from the Bull Run watershed.
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Old 17th April 2014, 11:45 AM   #11
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Originally Posted by madurobob View Post
Oh, its worse than that. The kid was probably drunk. So, this was a safety measure to prevent the entire city getting drunk when they had their morning glass of tap water.
Shouldn't it become a hangover cure because of "like cures like"? Maybe the Portland drinking water authorities are in the pocket of Big Alka-Seltzer!
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Old 17th April 2014, 12:30 PM   #12
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Originally Posted by Ixion View Post
I was browsing news stories this morning, and came across this one:

Portland Reservoir to be Drained After Teen Pees in Water


Basically, if you don't want to read the article, a CCTV captures a young man urinating into a water reservoir. The teen was caught and officials are now going to drain all 38 million gallons of the reservoir in order to "clean up" the offending act.

Now, this seems like a very costly overkill to me. First of all, I doubt that a couple hundred milliliters of urine in 38 million gallons of water is enough to contaminate it, provided that the urine has a substance in it that can contaminate it. Just based on a rough back-of-the-napkin calculation, you are very unlikely to even get a single molecule of urine in a gallon of reservoir water if it was distributed evenly. Secondly, I assume the cost of doing this will be passed onto the taxpayer. I can only imagine the price tag for such a clean up operation.Thirdly, I assume that the reservoir water is pre-treated with filters and other sanitation methods such as oxygenation prior to arriving at people's homes, so it should be safe to drink anyways. Finally, it seems like this kind of press just exacerbates people's fear of terrorist activity (or maybe it is a product of that fear) and creates a situation where the act of saving face becomes more important than any critical thinking about the safety of the public. Is my line of thinking misled?
Absolutely ridiculous. If water is not fit to drink because one person urinated in 38 million gallons, the only water fit to drink is water from the headwaters of a stream. I'm pretty sure there are humans (animals too) upstream of Portland's water supply and it gets traces of urine in it all the time. FSM knows how many people have peed in New Orleans' drinking water before it gets to them, but I do know I'm one of them.

Last edited by CORed; 17th April 2014 at 12:31 PM.
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Old 17th April 2014, 12:32 PM   #13
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I hope there are no fish in the reservoir. Think of all the fish pee!
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Old 17th April 2014, 12:46 PM   #14
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This is a wasterful pandering to the morons who would worry about such a thing.
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Old 17th April 2014, 12:47 PM   #15
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I'm prepared to bet that the process of "cleaning" will put more contaminants in there, by several orders of magnitude, than if every boy scout in the city peed in it.
If the decision is as the OP indicates and it was made by an engineer, then he should be fired, even if the guilty party had HIV, syphilis and Ebola.*

* OK, maybe not ebola.
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Old 17th April 2014, 01:03 PM   #16
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Originally Posted by Soapy Sam View Post
I'm prepared to bet that the process of "cleaning" will put more contaminants in there, by several orders of magnitude, than if every boy scout in the city peed in it.
If the decision is as the OP indicates and it was made by an engineer, then he should be fired, even if the guilty party had HIV, syphilis and Ebola.*

* OK, maybe not ebola.
I feel confident that an engineer would just shrug at this and say "It's an uncovered tank, what did you expect? We found a rat floating in it last month."*

If pushed, that "something must be done" I would propose video of a very sincere looking person, best if he has some official sciencey looking outfit and eye protection, dumping some diluted chlorine into the reservoir, taking measurements with a very sciencey looking gauge such as an electric hygrometer or thermometer, adding just a bit more, taking another measurement and then stepping back carefully as if he had just put everything back in balance.

The Press statement could say something like: We analyzed the situation and prepared an appropriate treatment for the water impacted. The included video shows the reservoir being treated to ensure that this breach of security will not impact our customers. The cost of this analysis and treatment will be forwarded to the DA's office to aide in the calculation of restitution if appropriate.


*Finding a dead rat in the skimmer of your pool late at night will cause urination issues, too.
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Old 17th April 2014, 02:02 PM   #17
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Originally Posted by edd View Post
200 ml in 38 million gallons is about 1 part in a billion. 1 gallon is what, 1026 molecules of water? I don't think your calculation is right.
Part of the confusion is that there is no such thing as a "molecule of urine." Urine is a solution of many components, but is still 95% water.

Let's just look at the urea component. Urea runs about 9.3 g/L, so call it 2 g for the 200 mL sample. With a molecular weight of 60, we have 30 mmol.

Now, how much water is there? 38e6 gallons, with each gallon being 128 oz and each oz is 30 mL, so I get 1.46e8 L. Water is 55 mol/L, so that means there are 8 billion moles of water.

The urea concentration then is going to be 4 ppt, or 1.4e-5 mg/L

According to this paper

Kosm Biol Aviakosm Med. 1988 Jan-Feb;22(1):63-6.
(abstract here http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/2896273)

the threshold for concentration for affecting taste or flavor is 80 mg/L. Overall the recommendation is "In terms of toxic effects the dose equal to 10 mg/l is taken to be the maximally allowable concentration of urea. "

So the paper puts the safe urea limit in water at 10 mg/L (3 ppm), or about 1 million times higher than this pee event.

Even if the paper is off by a factor of 1000, it's still under the limit by a factor of a thousand.

Alternatively, 1000 kids could pee in the reservoir and the urea concentration would still be 1000 times lower than the safe acceptable limit.

More dumb things: assuming the proportion of Boy Scouts in Portland is the same as that nationwide (6 million Boy Scouts/300 million people), than that would mean there are about 12K Boy Scouts in Portland, which means that if EVERY Boy Scout in Portland peed in the reservoir, the urea concentration would STILL be 100 times less than allowable safe limit.
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Old 17th April 2014, 02:09 PM   #18
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Originally Posted by Dr. Keith View Post
I feel confident that an engineer would just shrug at this and say "It's an uncovered tank, what did you expect? We found a rat floating in it last month."
Or a bear. Or a bigfoot. Perhaps the ark is under there, too.
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Old 17th April 2014, 02:21 PM   #19
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Originally Posted by Aepervius View Post
For water freely in open air ? If a teenager can urinate in it, bird, rat can die and decompose in it. So I am doubtful of the above. Gut feeling would be that water is stored in that reservoire before treatment and distributed after treatment immediately. I could be wrong though.
From what I've read this it is indeed treated water; underground storage is being built to comply with new regulations, apparently. Can't imagine why .
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Old 17th April 2014, 02:29 PM   #20
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Originally Posted by Spindrift View Post
This is a wasterful pandering to the morons who would worry about such a thing.
More likely with an eye to lawyers salivating over a class action. Also getting across to the local youth that this is not cool, m'kay? That'll stop it happening again.
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Old 17th April 2014, 04:06 PM   #21
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Originally Posted by pgwenthold View Post
I hope there are no fish in the reservoir. Think of all the fish pee!
IIRC, that was why W. C. Fields wouldn't touch water.
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Old 17th April 2014, 04:26 PM   #22
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Originally Posted by CORed View Post
IIRC, that was why W. C. Fields wouldn't touch water.
Not quite - I believe it was their reproductive activity that he objected to (he didn't put it so delicately).
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Old 17th April 2014, 04:45 PM   #23
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Originally Posted by dlorde View Post
Not quite - I believe it was their reproductive activity that he objected to (he didn't put it so delicately).
The tragedy of limited choices in regard to liquid sustenance is quite poignantly portrayed in Fields' documentary masterpiece, "The Fatal Glass of Beer."
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Old 17th April 2014, 05:13 PM   #24
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It's probably the fact that the scoutful of pee, added to all the "memory" of the homeopathic concentrations of dinosaur urine, and contaminants from ye fludde, put the concentration into homeopathically active levels...
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Old 17th April 2014, 06:27 PM   #25
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Re: my analysis above

I just realized - if the entire population of Portland peed in the reservoir, the urea concentration would still only be 8 mg/L, still undetectable by taste and still under the safe allowable limit!
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Old 17th April 2014, 06:34 PM   #26
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Originally Posted by pgwenthold View Post
Re: my analysis above

I just realized - if the entire population of Portland peed in the reservoir, the urea concentration would still only be 8 mg/L, still undetectable by taste and still under the safe allowable limit!
"Don't pee in here,
You hadn't ought-ter,
But watch out for
The yellow water!"
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Old 17th April 2014, 07:14 PM   #27
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I have seen large reservoirs that did not have dead animals in them. It is not impossible. No urine? That's not going to happen.

Some people drink urine. Insane, but then some people are not too rational. Urine is toxic, but not due to pathogens (most of the time, anyway). At these concentrations, I would be confident any toxins were diluted to well below most drinking water standards.

Still, I can sympathize. Who wants to be the official that says "We consider it okay for your children to drink pee"? This is a political, not scientific, decision. You would be amazed how often that is the case.
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Old 17th April 2014, 07:31 PM   #28
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I think it's ridiculous that they're draining the water over this, but at least I understand it (to prevent complaints or some other reason that I don't find compelling.)

What I don't understand are the people who designed a water treatment system that stores drinking water in tanks exposed to the air, particularly tanks that are able to be reached by the public without any great effort. This guy didn't climb a razorwire fence and take a wee, he just peed through some bars into a pond. Surely dozens of birds fly over this and poop into it daily, and the occasional duck must land in there, even if it's not got any fish in it...

This is begging someone to contaminate the water, for goodness sake. A bag of dog poop or worse, a bag of poison, and you've really done some damage.
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Old 19th April 2014, 04:19 AM   #29
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They should turn this calamity into a profit. Bottle and sell the water. "Portland Bottled Water: The Water With A Little Wang To It"
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Old 19th April 2014, 05:14 AM   #30
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Originally Posted by pgwenthold View Post
Re: my analysis above

I just realized - if the entire population of Portland peed in the reservoir, the urea concentration would still only be 8 mg/L, still undetectable by taste and still under the safe allowable limit!

You should pitch this idea to Carrie Brownstein and Fred Armisen.
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Old 19th April 2014, 07:18 AM   #31
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Originally Posted by jasonpatterson View Post
This is begging someone to contaminate the water, for goodness sake. A bag of dog poop or worse, a bag of poison, and you've really done some damage.
Agreed. If I knew my tap water was being stored in such a way, I wouldn't drink it. I usually don't drink tap water now just because of how often "boil water" warnings are given, but I do use it for ice cubes, cooking water, and brushing teeth.
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Old 19th April 2014, 08:22 AM   #32
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What's really goofy is that this is the second time this has happened. In 2011 they had to drain the reservoir because someone peed in it.

C'mon guys, add a membrane system already. Having your post-treated water all open and accessible is ludicrous.
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Old 19th April 2014, 08:25 AM   #33
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Anyone else reminded of that scene in Caddyshack when they drain the pool and Carl picks up the Baby Ruth proclaiming "It's not so bad" before taking a bite?

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Old 19th April 2014, 08:27 AM   #34
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Originally Posted by pgwenthold View Post
Part of the confusion is that there is no such thing as a "molecule of urine." Urine is a solution of many components, but is still 95% water.
So the reservoir is being drained because someone added water to the water?
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Old 19th April 2014, 08:51 AM   #35
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This is roughly in line with stupid laws like requiring disclosure if someone sells a house where a murder was committed within some number of years. Could have ghosts. Ick factors may be irrational but we are dealing with humans and rationality is not one of their more outstanding traits.
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Old 19th April 2014, 10:04 AM   #36
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Originally Posted by madurobob View Post
Oh, its worse than that. The kid was probably drunk. So, this was a safety measure to prevent the entire city getting drunk when they had their morning glass of tap water.
But if it was homeopathic wouldn't that sober them up?
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Old 19th April 2014, 10:27 AM   #37
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Originally Posted by Sherman Bay View Post
So the reservoir is being drained because someone added water to the water?
For the most part....
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Old 19th April 2014, 10:36 AM   #38
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Originally Posted by Dr. Keith View Post
[snipped for brevity]

*Finding a dead rat in the skimmer of your pool late at night will cause urination issues, too.
I found a dead water moccasin in my pool skimmer, so I get your point.
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Old 19th April 2014, 11:16 AM   #39
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Originally Posted by John Jones View Post
I found a dead water moccasin in my pool skimmer, so I get your point.
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Old 19th April 2014, 11:22 AM   #40
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Originally Posted by Turgor View Post
Shouldn't it become a hangover cure because of "like cures like"? Maybe the Portland drinking water authorities are in the pocket of Big Alka-Seltzer!
Originally Posted by Gallstones View Post
But if it was homeopathic wouldn't that sober them up?
OK, so I was in a hurry.

But, ya know, pedantry ruins many a good joke...
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