Portland is flushing 38 million gallons of water from reservoir, because teenager urinated in it

Oregon Live reports:

Portland City Commissioner Nick Fish says flushing 38 million gallons of water after a man urinated in the Mt. Tabor Reservoir system is the correct call, even if it prompts complaints that the city is overreacting or wasting water.

Fish, who has run the Water Bureau since last year, said he told administrators at the bureau to err on the side of public health when deciding how to handle the contamination. Water Bureau officials say the potential health risk from the Wednesday morning incident, in which a 19-year-old man peed in Reservoir 5, are miniscule. Still, they exist, Fish said.

“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. “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.”

Can you tell me, please, who those professionals are, and what their reasoning was? I confess that I’m not a water-treatment professional, but I’m pretty sure that lots of nasty things already make their way into the open-air reservoir, including animal urine, animal feces, dead animals and who knows what else. That’s nature for you. If the water (processed in whatever ways Portland, Ore., normally uses) is safe to drink despite that, I’m pretty sure it will be safe to drink even when one person’s urine is mixed in, as a test after the incident seems to report. (See this item by Laura Helmand (Slate) for more details.)

Of course, 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? 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.

Thanks to InstaPundit for the pointer.

Eugene Volokh teaches free speech law, religious freedom law, church-state relations law, a First Amendment Amicus Brief Clinic, and tort law, at UCLA School of Law, where he has also often taught copyright law, criminal law, and a seminar on firearms regulation policy.

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