PORTLAND, Ore. — Portland water officials are discarding 38 million gallons of drinking water after a 19-year-old was caught urinating into one of the city's reservoirs.
A security camera caught the man urinating at about 1 a.m. PT Wednesday through an iron fence into Mount Tabor Reservoir No. 5 in southeastern Portland, said Administrator David Shaff of the Portland Water Bureau. Minutes later, two other men, ages 18 and 19, attempted to scale the fence and one of them entered the reservoir.
The three men were caught, cited for trespassing and prohibited from returning to Mount Tabor Park. The 19-year-old also was cited for public urination. Their names and the reason for the incident were not immediately made available.
Police are reviewing surveillance video to determine if they should press additional charges.
"Our customers have an expectation that their water is not deliberately contaminated," said Shaff while acknowledging that the health risk is slight. "We have the ability to meet that expectation while minimizing public health concerns."
The open reservoirs hold water that already has been treated and goes directly into mains for distribution to customers. Mount Tabor No. 5 is one of five the city is in the process of replacing with underground storage to comply with federal regulations.
Water samples were taken from the reservoir later Wednesday, but test results won't be available until Thursday. The kidney-shaped reservoir, built in 1911, holds 50 million gallons.
It is drained for cleaning each spring and fall, and the spring draining was done about three weeks ago, the water bureau said.
The 38 million gallons — about 760,000 soaks in a bathtub — will be drained into the sewage system, eventually reaching a treatment plant before they are dumped into the Columbia River.
In 2011, the city dumped 8 million gallons, a mere 160,000 baths, from Mount Tabor Reservoir No. 1 after a 22-year-old man from Molalla, Ore., admitted to urinating in it. He eventually pleaded guilty to misuse of a reservoir and was sentenced to community service.
In that case, it cost the water bureau $32,700, passed on to customers, to drain the reservoir, and that decision caused a wave of backlash from many who said it was an unnecessary response.
Some complained that animals sometimes fall into the reservoir and die without any such action taken.
"I think part of it is just that general yuck factor of, 'Yes, we have birds on there all the time, but we don't have people peeing in it all the time,' " Shaff said In defending the 2011 decision.
If the area were in drought conditions, he said he probably would make a different decision.
"It's easy to replace those 38 million gallons of water," Shaff said. "We're not in the arid Southwest. We're not in drought-stricken parts of Texas or Oklahoma."
Floy Jones, co-founder of the group Friends of the Reservoirs, criticized the decision to drain, saying officials have no evidence any urine reached the water and it wouldn't harm anyone if it did.
"It's extremely wasteful," she said.