PORTLAND, Oregon — For a dry country like Israel, every drop of fresh water is crucial. Through desalinization plants, capturing rainwater, and developing new agricultural methods, Israel has learned to stretch its meager water supply to its limits.
Some places — including Oregon, with 122 inches of rainfall a year, five times more than Jerusalem — have a rather different approach to drinking water.
A mix of 38 million gallons of treated water and one teen’s urine has proven unacceptable to Portland officials who plan to flush away the whole lot — the second time in less than three years the city has gone to such lengths to keep its water pure.
In June 2011, the city drained a 7.5-million-gallon reservoir at Mount Tabor in southeast Portland after a man urinated in the water supply. This time, water from a different reservoir at the same location will be discarded after a 19-year-old was videotaped in the act of urinating.
“The basic commandment of the Water Bureau is to provide clean, cold and constant water to its customers,” bureau administrator David Shaff said Wednesday. “And the premise behind that is we don’t have pee in it.”
The open reservoirs hold water that has already been treated and goes directly into mains for distribution to customers.
Portland Water Bureau spokeswoman Jaymee Cuti said Thursday that test samples of water taken from the reservoir came back clean.
Shaff knew the urine posed little risk — animals routinely deposit waste without creating a public health crisis — but said the city has plenty of water to meet demand and he didn’t want to serve water that was deliberately tainted.
“There is at least a perceived difference from my perspective,” Shaff said. “I could be wrong on that, but the reality is our customers don’t anticipate drinking water that’s been contaminated by some yahoo who decided to pee into a reservoir.”
The discarded water will be drained into the sewage system, eventually reaching a treatment plant before it’s dumped into the Columbia River.
The incident occurred shortly after 1 a.m., when Water Bureau security personnel noticed three men on camera at Mount Tabor Reservoir No. 5. One was seen on video urinating through an iron fence, officials said. Minutes later, two other young men attempted to scale the fence.
The three men, whose names have not been released, were cited for trespassing and excluded from Mount Tabor Park. A 19-year-old was cited for public urination.
The Multnomah County District Attorney’s Office will decide whether to pursue criminal charges.
The kidney-shaped reservoir built in 1911 is drained for cleaning each spring and fall. The spring draining was done about three weeks ago, the Water Bureau said.
The reservoir is one of five that the city is in the process of replacing with underground storage to comply with federal regulations.
Floy Jones, cofounder of the group Friends of the Reservoirs, criticized the decision to drain the reservoir, saying there’s no evidence any urine reached the water and it wouldn’t harm anyone if it did.
“It’s extremely wasteful,” she said.
The man who urinated into Portland’s water supply in June 2011 eventually pleaded guilty to misuse of a reservoir and was sentenced to community service.