Portland officials were shocked this week when a security camera captured a man urinating in a city reservoir of treated drinking water. Others were equally shocked by the city’s response — it flushed 8 million gallons of water down the drain.
The culprit is was Josh Seater, 21, who said he had been drinking and “I had a pleasant buzz.” Nevertheless, he admitted that “I knew I did wrong when I did it” particularly when an officer came running toward him.
A pint of urine diluted in 8 million gallons would seem to present little threat to human health, particularly since an open reservoir presumably has far greater amounts of bird droppings and even dead animals falling into it. I have never been a supporter of the view that “the solution to pollution is dilution” — a view that supports dumping in the oceans by calculating their “receiving capacity.” However, this seems worse for the environment to treat such a huge quantity of water and then dispose of it over the unpleasant thought of the fouling of the waters.
Notably, the reservoirs are drained twice a year to remove everything from paint cans to animal carcasses.
City Commissioner Randy Leonard, however, insists that there was a potential public health risk created by Seater.
There would be an interesting question presented by the response of the city if Seater is charged. If he is charged criminally, the city could demand restitution. It could also sue him civilly for the costs. Treating the water cost $8000 and the water itself is valued at $28,000. That would be a charge of $36,000. Yet, most experts would presumably say that the dumping of the water was an entirely unnecessary and extreme response. IF so, should Seater be responsible for the cost? This would be a akin to someone denting a car only to have the owner take the car to an auto yard to be crushed in response.
Besides, if it is any solace to the Portland citizens, he was drinking Coors, which is mainly water anyway.
Nevertheless, the court may conclude that, while extreme, the city was well within its rights to dispense with the water to assure its customers about the purity of its water supply. That would make this a very expensive night out for Josh Seater, who is unemployed.
He could face a misdemeanor charge.