Water Nonsense

Some of the 'holier than thou' placards we encounter in hotel rooms these days.
Some of the ‘holier than thou’ placards we encounter in hotel rooms these days.

The in-room placards are getting more and more offensively aggressive at demanding we ‘save water’ while staying at a hotel.

Earlier this week, I was at a property that not only had the well-worn homilies about re-using towels, but also was suggesting a long list of other water-saving strategies, ranging from taking showers instead of baths to turning off the tap between rinses while brushing one’s teeth.

The fact that the resort in question was in the middle of a lush wet rain forest and alongside a pure flowing river made it all even more ridiculous than normal, and also begged the response ‘if you really want me to save water, perhaps I should just go back home, use water any way I like, and not visit at all’.

On the other hand, we do know that some parts of the world, and some parts of the country, are short of water.  But to save water in a place where it is freely abundant doesn’t help the arid parts of the world any more than, when we were children and told to ‘think of all the starving people in India’, it helped them when we ate all the food on our plate.

And now, news comes this week of the Portland (OR) city water bureau administrator claiming they have plenty of water.  After deciding to gratuitously throw away 38 million gallons of the stuff, he said

It’s easy to replace those 38 million gallons of water.  We’re not in the arid Southwest.  We’re not in drought-stricken parts of Texas or Oklahoma.

The water was stored in a large open reservoir in a popular park in the center of the city, Mt Tabor, and travels from the reservoir direct to consumers’ taps without further treatment.  Birds fly overhead and, ahem, regularly defecate in it, plant life grows in it, and we don’t know but will wager that fish probably live in it too.  Also likely are various wild and even domesticated animals that come along and also, ahem, ‘muddy the waters’.

Animals don’t only do these things – they also die in the reservoirs (see picture of a water bureau employee removing a dead duck from the reservoir here).  City pollution also settles in the water – either being washed down and into the water, or just normally settling, along with other dust and dirt and debris.  Leaves and seeds and pollen fall into the water, too.

One of the Mt Tabor reservoirs in Portland, with the downtown area nearby in the background.
One of the Mt Tabor reservoirs in Portland, with the downtown area nearby in the background.

But all of this is both normal and negligible, and the water quality/purity exceeds all federal, state and city requirements.  None of these events cause any alarm at all.

But earlier this week a 19 year old youth was seen urinating through the protective stand-off fence surrounding the reservoir.  It is unclear if any of his urine actually reached the reservoir.  Urine is normally a germ/infection free liquid, and some people even routinely drink it as a tonic (Gandhi being a well-known example).  We’re not advocating you should start doing this, too, but we’re simply pointing out that while we are conditioned to avoid urine, it is not normally harmful.

So, here we are, with a 38 million gallon reservoir, full not only of water but also of assorted other products, including plenty of excrement from birds, and possibly also fish and animals, as well as all manner of precipitated pollutants.  There is a possibility that it may now have some small amount, probably less than a pint, of urine added to it, making for an undetectable one part (or less) of human urine per 300 million parts of water, and dwarfed by all the other urine and feces already present.

To put that level of contamination into perspective, if it was cyanide that was for sure emptied into the water instead of urine that may or may not have reached the reservoir, the fatal dose level would have to be 5,000 times greater (about one part in 600,000).

So, what does the city of Portland do?

Clearly its managers have never read the placards in hotels exhorting them to save water.  It decides to dump the entire 38 million gallons of water.  Details here.

Oh yes, this is the second time they’ve done this, although the previous time, three years ago, it was ‘only’ a 7.5 million gallon reservoir.

Could we ask Portland area hotels to now remove their ‘save water’ placards.

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