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Portland To Empty Water In Mt. Tabor Reservoir After Contamination

OPB | April 16, 2014 1:42 p.m. | Updated: April 17, 2014 6:39 a.m. | Portland

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The Portland Water Bureau was forced to shut down one of its Mount Tabor reservoirs early Wednesday. A trespasser urinated into one of the reservoirs. The Water Bureau security staff caught the three men on surveillance video:

Bureau officials say about 50 million gallons of drinking water were isolated at Reservoir No. 5. None of the contaminated supply was distributed to customers.

David Shaff is with the Portland Water Bureau. He says water quality samples have been taken for safety reasons.

“I’m still going to empty the reservoir, clean it, and re-fill it. And the reason I’m going to do that is because I have customers who have an expectation that I’m not going to deliberately deliver water that has been contaminated by someone peeing into the reservoir,” Shaff said.

“The basic commandment of the Water Bureau is to provide clean, cold and constant water to its customers,” 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.

The urine poses little risk — animals routinely deposit waste without creating a public health crisis — but Shaff said he doesn’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.”

Shaff says there’s plenty of water coming from the supply at Bull Run, allowing the bureau to replenish the Mount Tabor reservoir. 

“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.”

The three unidentified men were cited for trespassing after being stopped at the site early Wednesday morning.  One was also 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 the city is in the process of replacing with underground storage to comply with federal regulations.

Floy Jones, co-founder 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.

In June 2011, the city drained a 7.5 million-gallon reservoir at Mount Tabor in southeast Portland. This time, 38 million gallons from a different reservoir at the same location will be discarded after a 19-year-old was videotaped in the act.

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.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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