Overreacting to Risk

This is a crazy overreaction:

A 19-year-old man was caught on camera urinating in a reservoir that holds Portland's drinking water Wednesday, according to city officials.

Now the city must drain 38 million gallons of water from Reservoir 5 at Mount Tabor Park in southeast Portland.

I understand the natural human disgust reaction, but do these people actually think that their normal drinking water is any more pure? That a single human is that much worse than all the normal birds and other animals? A few ounces distributed amongst 38 million gallons is negligible.

Another story.

EDITED TO ADD (5/14): They didn't flush the reservoir after all, but they did move the water.

Posted on April 18, 2014 at 6:26 AM • 82 Comments


karun rApril 18, 2014 6:49 AM

Why don't they simply dump a 10lb bag of chlorine into the pool and be done with it? Equally pointless, but at least they can say they did something.

rysiekApril 18, 2014 6:50 AM

Well, if we're talking homeopathy, I'd say that this amount of "material" in the water would definitely have a *positive* health effect, now wouldn't it? ;)

DanielApril 18, 2014 6:56 AM

So insane. Go ahead, place half a liter of ANY chemical element in 38 million gallons, and I will drink it happily. It's so idiotic and insane.

maxCohenApril 18, 2014 7:00 AM

I think we should look on the bright side and be glad he isn't being charged as a terrorist.

WmApril 18, 2014 7:01 AM

Surely the water in the lake is further purified before being sent to homes as drinking water. Or have we found out a secret in Oregon? They are drinking water straight out of a lake? Nevertheless, if you have ever been in Oregon, the place if full of people who freak out over almost anything. We used to call such people - weak sisters.

SamApril 18, 2014 7:04 AM

Urine is typically sterile when it leaves the body anyway. Thousands of Germans drink it every week. What's the problem?

RuzApril 18, 2014 7:09 AM

This is not a safety risk. It is an image risk. They have LOTS of water. By "over-reacting" they are improving their public perception (from most people) for a relatively low cost. Remember, there is a cost-benefits trade-off here. At worst, they are probably break even.

ReyApril 18, 2014 7:14 AM

I'd rather have urine diluted at 3 parts per billion than atrazine diluted at 3 parts per billion (the maximum contaminant level set by the EPA) in my water.

AdamApril 18, 2014 7:24 AM

What Ruz said.

I'm from Portland and something like this happened back in 2011:


An important line in that story is the following:

"Shaff [, the Portland Water Bureau administrator,] noted that Portland's Bull Run water supply contains billions of gallons of water, and it makes sense to clean the reservoir."

It may be a crazy overreaction, but for the city it is a trivial matter in terms of cost and effort to drain the reservoir. Portland is not facing a water shortage. And if they do drain it, they don't have to go around answering questions like "Why are you knowingly letting Portlanders drink pee?".

CraigApril 18, 2014 7:31 AM

Looking at news closer to the source:


There is a huge supply of water in this area, so 38 million gallons is negligible.

The only cost is employees time, which if they aren't utilized 100 percent of the time is also negligible.

This is not the first time they did this, but simply the first time the sum of the Internet decided to weigh in.

The issue here is a difference of perceived risk (to reputation) vs. actual risk (to public health).

The results of the tests indicate no risk to public health. But the fact that people of Portland know that their water supplier is willing to drain the reservoir if someone takes a leak in provides a greater confidence that you are drinking clean water.

Maintaining a positive reputation for little to no cost is an easy choice. You wouldn't drink a cup full of urine, but you would be alright with knowingly drinking it from a reservoir. It isn't a question of would you drink urine, just a matter of how diluted you'd want it to be first. In Portland ... they don't want people to have to think about that.

tzApril 18, 2014 7:42 AM

Yet someone could get.close enough to contaminate it. They threaten photographers near refineries.

Also, what do they do about small.animals or.birds overflying?

DaveApril 18, 2014 7:43 AM

Like the ducks and geese don't shit in the same water that was just drained.

David ConradApril 18, 2014 7:47 AM

"This is Ortland. Notice that there is no P in it. Please keep it that way."

questionApril 18, 2014 7:48 AM

Didn't Bruce report on this same exact scenario more than a couple of years back? The comments back then were exactly the same too.

zApril 18, 2014 8:12 AM

This is what happens when you have a society run by lawyers and PR firms rather than common sense.

Seen it AllApril 18, 2014 8:36 AM

We've been overreacting to risk for the last 12+ years, Bruce. What else is new?

BrianApril 18, 2014 8:46 AM

@David Conrad: +1

@question: The last time it was a couple who skinny-dipped in the reservoir.

As a Portlander living a mile away from Mt Tabor, I agree that it's ridiculous. As others have pointed out it's just PR. Secure-pee Theater. (Sorry, couldn't resist.)

BTW, the Mt Tabor reservoirs are being decommissioned under misguided federal regs that require all reservoirs to be covered. Until that happens, everyone please hold it until you get home.

HistorianApril 18, 2014 8:52 AM

Every glass of water - contains molecules which have at some point been dinosaur piss.

AlanApril 18, 2014 9:11 AM

I'm reminded of the brownie purity story, which superficially has the moral that an irrelevant, perfectly safe level of contamination is something to avoid, but whose actual moral is that feelings about that is gross are a terrible way to make important decisions. http://www.snopes.com/glurge/brownies.asp

MikeW_CAApril 18, 2014 9:20 AM

Clearly, we Californians need to build a pipeline or aqueduct up to Oregon. They seem to have more water than they know what to do with. We are a bit short right now.

NathanApril 18, 2014 9:25 AM

The risk here is not that someone might be harmed from drinking from the reservoir. It is that one of the city's doubtless dozens or hundreds of underemployed attorneys with loans might run an ad featuring a near variant on the phrase "Have you caught hep C in the spring of 2014?"

NathanApril 18, 2014 9:36 AM

MikeW_CA: That occurred to me as well, though I live in Rochester, NY (in a house with a bit of excess water in the back yard at the moment, and rather a lot in Lake Ontario a few minutes away, though it would require a fair amount of treatment as can be seen on Google Earth). It saddens me to see, and I have friends in Portland as well as CA.

I suspect, however, that the answer you'd get is some variant on "just pay shipping" :(

BuckApril 18, 2014 9:39 AM

Seems like they are reacting to the wrong risk...

I'd wager that the time spent draining the reservoir would be far more valuable if instead it were to be spent on rethinking their whole security plan!

NathanApril 18, 2014 9:42 AM

How hard would it be to drop polonium salts from a plane into that, or any, reservoir? Or something equally interesting?

AdamApril 18, 2014 9:51 AM

It's all about the squick factor.
a testament to the utter irrationality of human squeamishness.

"[Water Bureau Administrator] Shaff told the Oregonian that his bureau *regularly found dead animals in the drinking supply but didn’t dump the water*. “This is different,” he said. “Do you want to drink pee?”


G.G.April 18, 2014 9:53 AM

Portland is in the middle of a very contentious fight between environmental groups and the existing City-controlled water bureau and a corporate-funded group (with a lot of the same backers who successfully defeated fluoridation) that wants to replace it with a more independent third-party oversight group.

Everything water-related in Portland is already under a magnifying glass--the vote is a few weeks away.

The current bureau is in a panic to show that they're effective despite a several-times-faster-than-inflation series of water rate increases and the federal scrutiny that Craig mentioned above.

The erstwhile new water district's backers are in a frenzy painting everything the current bureau does as incompetent stewardship of taxpayer money and public resources.

This all means more Portland water stories--stories that have happened before and didn't get attention--get multiple writethrus on state and regional news wires as regional outlets want news. Those stories get picked up on national wires because, well, read the headline: teen pisses in water reservoir, millions of gallons dumped. Look at the attention it's gotten.

Indeed, the decision to flush the water is PR. The fact that they held a press conference about the piss, flushing the piss, revealing the pisser's name, the loud opposition to flushing the reservoir, the multiple local media stories and polls, everything is PR. Everything is being used to influence the election weeks away, just like both sides of Portland's fluoridation debate ramped up the news cycle in the weeks before that vote (with many of the same actors, including the City water board and the Portland Bottling Company).

RayApril 18, 2014 10:13 AM

There is one issue that makes human urine a greater threat to humans than that of other animals; Coliform Bacteria. If this guy happens to have something, then its ... capable of infecting humans. That's drastically less likely to be true for other species, so there is some risk (to humans) with human pee that there isn't otherwise.

That said, yes, this is a somewhat ridiculous overreaction, especially given that they have to do at least some water treatment before it's piped into people's houses.

arfnarfApril 18, 2014 11:00 AM

For example, FDA regulations permit the following levels of contaminants in Apple Butter:

Rodent Filth - Average of 4 or more rodent hairs per 100 grams of apple butter
Insects - Average of 5 or more whole or equivalent insects (not counting mites, aphids, thrips, or scale insects) per 100 grams of apple butter

Source: http://www.fda.gov/food/guidanceregulation/guidancedocumentsregulatoryinformation/sanitationtransportation/ucm056174.htm

By the time you've read the whole list in that document, you'll gladly drink that chap's urine fresh and warm.

JimApril 18, 2014 11:06 AM

I thought for sure this was a joke at first. Oh well, I'm sure it will soon be a story line in an upcoming episode of Portlandia. How silly....

vas pupApril 18, 2014 11:06 AM

@all. Most respected bloggers got the point that real risk and psychological risk are far apart from each other. Unfortunately, money allocated, measures taken, special Agencies created to fight psychological risks because as one politician said " we want people feel safe as well as be safe", and my addition "we want people see us caring about them and reelect us". That is difference between risk handling strategy developed by risk assessment professionals versus politicians.

uh, MikeApril 18, 2014 11:11 AM

My hometown, not far from Portland, drained a reservoir every few years when bodies were found. They didn't have to waste water, they just rearranged the routine maintenance. Now our reservoirs are capped.

Always drink upstream of the herd.

DanielApril 18, 2014 11:39 AM

I sincerely do not know which is stupider....the action to dump the water or the numerous comments on this blog trying to justify it. There is no justification. None. Zero.

Every justification offered for dumping water in this forum can be summed up in one phrase---pandering to ignorance. Adlai Stevenson always said--"Trust the people. Trust their good sense." Everything about the decision to dump water and the people who are rationalizing such behavior can be summed in the phrase--"Distrust the people. Count on their ignorance and bad sense." That's horrible, it's wrong, and it is profoundly anti-democratic. A democracy cannot survive on paranoia and the belief that the other guy's ignorance is simply something to be exploited for "the greater good". Capitalism can survive on that thesis--tyranny can survive on that thesis--democracy, never.

G.GApril 18, 2014 11:48 AM

Re: "what about (dead animals, animal urine/feces, animal-borne diseases and contaminants):

"Those natural contaminants are a key part of the Environmental Protection Agency's justification for a rule that requires all open-air reservoirs to be covered. Portland is scheduled to disconnect the open-air reservoirs on Mt. Tabor from the drinking water system by the end of 2015.

Shaff said there isn't much the bureau can do about those natural contaminants in the meantime, and that they don't pose a serious health risk."

Re: why they flushed it despite there not being a significant health risk:

Shaff acknowledged the public health risk is slight, but says that the bureau will not serve purposely tainted drinking water to the public.

"Our customers have an expectation that their water is not deliberately contaminated. We have the ability to meet that expectation while minimizing public health concerns," said Shaff. "We will continue to provide our customers with safe, clean and cold Bull Run water."

That's all it is, saving face in an election cycle. If this happened any other time, they'd test, not find a problem, do little or nothing about it, and not announce it, release security camera footage, name the teenager, or hold press conferences.

It's not about mitigating health risks. It's about mitigating political risk, which is pretty high at the moment for the water bureau.

JeffApril 18, 2014 12:08 PM

A few commenters have assumed that Portland treats the water leaving that reservoir. I heard that treatment is done upstream on the water before reaching that reservoir, and so there is no treatment between that reservoir and homes.

jeriApril 18, 2014 12:09 PM

So just where is Portland draining the deliberately contaminated water? And is Portland deliberately contaminating someone else's drinking water supply by doing this? I can see the headline now: "Californians unknowingly drink untreated Portland pee".

M WelinderApril 18, 2014 12:23 PM

Ray wrote:

> If this guy happens to have something, then its ... capable of infecting humans.

Well, yes.

But the claim that human pee is a higher risk than animal pee is probably
not true. Rat pee, specifically, is (1) likely to be found in the reservior,
and (2) often infected with bacteria that are nasty to humans.

If rat pee (and droppings, one imagines) is not a health concern, a crazy
teenager isn't either.

Dr StrangeloveApril 18, 2014 12:31 PM

Every glass of water - contains molecules which have at some point been dinosaur piss.

Good point. Better to drink beer.

Dr StrangeloveApril 18, 2014 12:59 PM

BTW drinking your own urine may not be much of a deal HEALTH-WISE but if you drink someone elses you do pose a change to get some bacteria that you do not already have in your system.

Although the bacteria will of course not mind visiting your insides...

Clive RobinsonApril 18, 2014 1:01 PM

This sounds like a sub-plot from a Tom Sharpe novel about the incompetent South African Police/security services (another sub plot has a group of police informers getting together to put plastic explosive in condoms and feeding then to ostratchis in the zoo before releasing them to run around town)

As for the person who pee'd in the dam he was charged with "sedition" by contaminating the water supply.

Which makes me wonder when this unfortunate 19 year old is going to be taken in as a terrorist or some such and given a nice orange jump suit and a quick trip to Gitmo.

NobodySpecialApril 18, 2014 2:17 PM

Also here in Oregon somebody decided that beavers posed a risk to drinking water (they can carry a nasty parasite).
So they decided to trap beavers in lakes that provided the drinking water.
they then forgot about the traps.
Come summer and the water level drops to reveal dozens of traps with beavers in various states of decay.

Apparently rotting beaver isn't much of a threat given that the lakes are full of dead fish/birds and deer anyway !

mozApril 18, 2014 2:52 PM

Let's assume that you have to clean your entire reservoir of dead pidgeons and stuff once every ten years. Let's also assume that it costs, say, $100,000 to clean. Let's assume that an average of five random drunks a year think it's a good idea to pee in the average US reservoir.
Finally, let's assume that a security guard costs $5 per hour and that a $500 bonus will motivate him entirely.

Of we invest $5000 in monitoring systems, our guard will identify a target at an average cost of about $9444, so, if we then set up the guard six months before cleaning is due and catch at least two suspects to charge for the cleaning, I think you will find the ROI, about $76,000 , or about 320% (more if we have or own lawyers and pocket some of the "costs" as profit) fully justifies all the investment in security equipment.

I think Bruce would be happy to have numbers like this for the security company he works for.

WBApril 18, 2014 2:55 PM

As my son often reminds me, common sense is becoming so scarce it should be designated a super-power. Obviously the case here.

AnonyApril 18, 2014 3:11 PM

@Dr. Strangelove

Urine is sterile unless you have a urinary tract infection.

Your body consists of about 10^13 cells (10 trillion). It is home to approximately 10^14 bacteria (100 trillion). Any incoming bacteria need to displace the current residents or they will be consumed.

Coyne TibbetsApril 18, 2014 3:24 PM

Oh, it's a huge overreaction. Urine is largely sterile and, while it's unpleasant to think about drinking about it directly, it's certainly harmless in such a large body of water. With today's desperate water shortages, dumping 38 million gallons for such a trivial event is ridiculous.

This is especially true considering environmental pollutants that routinely make it through treatment into public water systems that are dangerous to everyone and which governments cavalierly shrug off. Things like atrazine (and other pesticides), cyanobacteria, chromium, pharmaceutical drugs of all flavors, lead, and even arsenic. Probably thousands of others. Read this. Not to mention the chemicals they added to "purify" the water, to keep it from growing things, or to treat our teeth.

In the recent Elk River chemical spill, the water was contaminated with chemicals for which we don't even know the toxicity; because no toxicity test was ever performed. In fact, we don't even know all the chemicals because the mixture was a "trade secret". Despite the smell, obvious to everyone, the water company continued delivering water, basically saying, "We checked, it's harmless, don't worry about it."

Given all that, to get squeamish about 5 parts per billion (based on 1½ pints) of urine is nothing less than silly.

Live near thereApril 18, 2014 4:05 PM

I live across the Columbia and get to watch the interesting world of Portland on a daily basis. It's like a really bad soap opera.

As G.G. and others have noted this is largely a PR move. There is the ongoing push to take control of the water bureau away from the city council. They were using the water bills as an extra source of money for random projects around town. Portland has very high sewer rates due to EPA required rebuilding of lots of the old combined sewer system. So people are sensitive about the money being spent on things like a $900,000 "water house" which demonstrated green technologies. The house recently sold for about half of the cost to build it.

There also is a fight with the EPA and other Federal agencies over the uncovered water reservoirs. The treated water is stored in uncovered reservoirs. The EPA and others are pushing to make them covered. Some people think that is a good idea. Others are opposed because it will change the nature of the park where the reservoirs are located.

Portland's water supply is largely untreated. Straight from Bull Run to the storage reservoirs then to homes. There also is a fight over that from the EPA due to the risk of a specific parasite coming out of the Bull Run water supply. (Very low risk. But not zero since testing has found it a couple of times in the water supply.) So the EPA is also pushing for additional treatment in addition to covering the reservoirs.

To be honest water supply isn't really a problem in most of the Pacific Northwest. A drought up here is what many places (eg. California) would consider a monsoon. So discarding a few million gallons isn't a big deal. :)

Steve CApril 18, 2014 4:31 PM

Others have mentioned that urine is sterile from any healthy person, and that is quite true. What they didn't mention is that many survival guides will tell you to urinate on open wounds if you are unable to rinse out a dirty wound, because it will not only flush out the bacteria but will actually kill some of that bacteria. This is partially why many generations long ago used to brush their teeth with urine, because although they didn't know it back then, it killed the bacteria that caused gum disease. All they knew back then is that it worked at keeping your mouth/teeth in good shape.

B. D. JohnsonApril 18, 2014 4:46 PM

Just some back-of-envelope math here:

If he had, instead of urine, urinated the same mass of potassium cyanide into the reservoir (and that's going with the high end of 500 mL of urine), you'd need to drink around 15,000 gallons to get a lethal dose of cyanide. That's roughly the amount of water you need in your *lifetime*.

I wouldn't be worried. Like the old toast goes:

"Everybody raise your beers. And if you're drinking water: remember, fish fuck in that. Slainte."

PigeonsApril 18, 2014 5:15 PM

Do you really think there's dead pigeons on the bottom of the reservoir, or do you think they float and someone scoops them out with one of those pool nets?

SamApril 18, 2014 7:04 PM

No doubt they are worried that the urinator may have used fluoridated toothpaste.

Dr StrangeLoveApril 18, 2014 9:26 PM

Urine is sterile unless you have a urinary tract infection.

True but you can have a slight infection without knowing about it.

In any case so in my post the point was about drinking the urine of someone else - the problem here is that you would typically have less knowledge of that person's bodily state (or more specifically: the state of that persons urinary tract - not to mention that on men the urine may also contain the sperms that were stuck in the urethra).

These are the reasons why a doctor would tell you to first pee a bit in the toilet before peeing into the sample cup.

Your truly,

Dr Strangelove

Dr StrangeLoveApril 18, 2014 10:20 PM

@Crocodile Chuck
Its (urine) sterile.

Sure it is. Absolutely.

Here is a study from 2012:

Evidence of Uncultivated Bacteria in the Adult Female Bladder

From above article:

Clinical urine specimens are usually considered to be sterile when they do not yield uropathogens using standard clinical cultivation procedures.

What this means is that the urine is "sterile" if it does not indicate a presence of any of the types of bacteria that the urine is tested for. Even before this study that did not mean that it is sterile in the absolute sense.

The article continues:

Our aim was to test if the adult female bladder might contain bacteria that are not identified by these routine procedures.
Consenting participants who were free of known urinary tract infection provided urine samples by voided, transurethral, and/or suprapubic collection methods. The presence of bacteria in these samples was assessed by bacterial culture, light microscopy, and 16S rRNA gene sequencing. Bacteria that are not or cannot be routinely cultivated (hereinafter called uncultivated bacteria) were common in voided urine, urine collected by transurethral catheter (TUC), and urine collected by suprapubic aspirate (SPA), regardless of whether the subjects had urinary symptoms. Voided urine samples contained mixtures of urinary and genital tract bacteria.

In other words they found out that urine can contain both bacteria that is common in the bladder and also bacteria that exists in the genitalia.

Here is another article about the same study:

Study debunks common myth that urine is sterile

AGApril 19, 2014 1:23 AM

Make him drink and bathe from that 38 million gallons for the rest of his life - takes care of many problems:

- Water supplier gets to do PR
- Guy gets punished, nobody ever does it again
- We get some data on effect of life-time of drinking water with very small amounts of pee in it

Probably a few more, but these work on their own.

DBApril 19, 2014 1:41 AM

This is so ridiculous that people are going to end up peeing there now just to piss them off... and then at some point they WILL start to be changed with terrorism for peeing. You just wait. It's inevitable.

joeApril 19, 2014 10:00 AM

Reading "arguably" by christopher Hitchens yesterday came across an article about dioxin and agent orange in the mekong delta and other areas of vietnam. Millions of gallons of this stuff were used for ten years,it dosn't break down and it affects the entire eco chain. Millions of people are suffering from its pernicious effects, I was very impressed by the statement that some victims of this atrocity are not yet born.
Continued destruction of the natural water system by corporate irresponsibility such as in West Virginia will make clean water a precious commodity in the dystopian future. perhaps destroying the eco chain is a plan to make water a profit center.

Nick PApril 19, 2014 10:25 AM

@ joe

It's possible. However, the main strategy for obtaining control over water is lobbying politicians to privatize it. Once it's private, the company in control of it can start charging more and more. What Betchel did in Bolivia might be a taste of things to come.

CelosApril 19, 2014 1:30 PM

That some people here are actually trying to defend that decision just shows that the human race has a large supply of people that are not rational.

KurzlegApril 19, 2014 4:19 PM

I was just in Portland recently and went to the reservoir in question (it's on Mount Tabor). I was amused by the signs posted around the reservoir, which started with verbiage about the penalties for contaminating the water. Then, at the very end, was this line: "This is your drinking water!" To my way of thinking, that should have been the lead. Might not have stopped this particular person, but then it just might have.

Live near thereApril 19, 2014 6:33 PM

@ Nick P

The goal is to move control from the elected city council to an elected water board. The primary goal is to separate the water bureau budget from the city general fund. The city council has used the water bureau revenue for things other than the water supply (e.g. built a house for almost a million dollars, paid for park improvements, renovation of buildings not associated with the water bureau, college tuition, etc.). Several audits have pointed out big problems with what was being done; some of the actions violated the Portland city charter. After one audit the city council refunded some money from the general fund to the water bureau.

For a place that has a LOT of water Portland has very high water and sewer rates. Those rates have been going up at several times the inflation rate. So it's a topic many pay attention to; at least they do when they get the bills.

I'm not sure a separate elected water board will solve the problems. It probably will for the water bureau but not for other things controlled by the city council.

To relate this back to security -- there is a lack of trust in the city council's handling of money.

The real solution would be to hold members of the city council responsible for their misuse of funds. Which doesn't happen here or in most other governments. Hence the loss of trust.

Nick PApril 19, 2014 7:12 PM

@ Live near there

Makes sense.

"The real solution would be to hold members of the city council responsible for their misuse of funds. Which doesn't happen here or in most other governments. Hence the loss of trust."

The missing element is the governed doing their part. We have political, financial, legal, and violent pressures we can apply to corrupt government in the United States. First three are best route, with fourth being last resort. There are even cases of small communities bending governments and major corporations to their will. The people in general are apathetic, though, so their opponents will win battle after battle. The war being a series of battles they might win that too.

Live near thereApril 20, 2014 2:44 AM

@ Nick P

I agree. But the problem is that the public doesn't realize what they have lost. And why it matters.

Portland is a very liberal city. Some of the time that is great. But the side effects... People vote for politicians who give equal rights to daisies. They don't look at how the politicians spend their money. The politicians have found the perfect cloaking device --- do liberal things whether or not they have any actual value.

You can restate all of this for a very conservative city -- the point is claim to match your voters and you can do whatever you want. All you have to do is put out the correct flavor of press release.

I think this is partly due to the one dimensional political landscape we have created. Liberals are seen as being for spending, high taxes, rights for all groups, etc. Conservatives are seen as opposed to all of those and for defense, for balanced budgets (maybe) and low taxes and economic growth. (Add your own for's and against's here. And remember it varies from region to region, since they have to match the local view of the world.)

By selecting a one dimensional political spectrum I can't find the politician I like. I want a balanced budget with tight auditing to confirm there is no waste. I want low taxes but I want them to be high enough to pay for what is required. I want a strong defense but I don't want it to be insane levels. (Speak softly and carry a big stick. -- that says nothing about USING the stick, just wave it around. Only hit things when absolutely required to. Something we seem to have forgotten.) I want personal privacy which does not include the NSA keeping copies of everything I do for my whole life. I want equal rights for everyone. But I also want criminals to be locked up not coddled. I don't care what drugs people take if they are adults. But I do want no smoking laws because I'm allergic to tobacco and like to breath when I go to the pub. I want strong environmental laws but I also want my lights to turn on when I flip the switch.

In other words I want a compromise that is sane.

Our political system (party primaries, etc.) results in only the far left and far right (at least in the USA spectrum) being on the ballett. The sane (or at least saner) middle is missing.

As I said -- loss of trust. Which results in the NSA. Which results in people (including many here) accusing my employer of things I know are not true about our products. But, like many baseless accusations, you can't prove otherwise. Because we may have been subverted by the NSA. One of my co-workers, who used to post here and knows more about encryption than anyone else I have met in person (I've never actually met Bruce) starts conversations with "I have not received a national security letter". Because he is very, very p***ed about being accused of doing the NSA's dirty work.

Loss of trust. I didn't think that was the correct topic for a security book. I was VERY wrong. Because I hadn't realized that the loss of trust was like mud flinging off a passing car. It makes everyone look dirty no matter how clean they were a second before.

-- Live near Portland

JimApril 20, 2014 3:53 PM

@Daniel Anyone have half a liter of botulism toxin for disposal?

But seriously though, "the dose maketh the poison". Urine is such an innocuous substance that the move seems exaggerated, except for "PR purposes".

JanApril 21, 2014 2:07 AM

Attention! Someone just has to control the water that is going to be drained _before_ it is drained!
This for sure is just a scapegoat for someone who feels really relieved only after the water was drained. Take a very close look who was responsible for the water quality and who really wants to drain it now. There might be some really disgusting secrets to be unveiled..

DBApril 21, 2014 2:39 AM

@Live near there: has your employer thought about hey, maybe, coming out strongly and publicly arguing against the system that does secret NSL letters? With no weasel words and weak legal speak? Even if people laugh, just keep responding and hammering on it? Has your employer thought about becoming significantly more open in what it does, how it develops products, etc, so that all people with expertise can clearly and independently SEE AND VERIFY with their very own eyes that it's not all backdoored? I didn't think so. Fear your future employment, man. Fear it. This is not just going to blow over in a couple days. Respond to the market, or die from failing to follow the winds of change. And change is coming, you can be sure of it. Slowly but surely.

TomApril 21, 2014 11:10 AM

I have to confess. I have pissed in Lake Michigan. Better drain it, because that's where Chicago and many other cities get their water.

AutolykosApril 22, 2014 8:47 AM

Yep, draining the reservoir is clearly pandering to the irrational. But that's just what politicians do. I've yet to see one fail for underestimating the rationality of the people.
There aren't many substances dangerous in such a low concentration, and urine definitely isn't one of them. Heck, even most downright nasty chemicals (say, Dimethylmercury) wouldn't bother me in there. Some poisons (like Botox) would kill you in that concentration, but good luck getting an ounce of the pure stuff anywhere.

LoriApril 23, 2014 6:00 PM

The water you drink every day has been urinated, defecated and barfed in since the beginning of time, not to mentioned all the other things that happen in the water. There has NOT been any brand new water since the earth was created. It has all been filtered and recycled a bazillion times over. Drink up !

parserApril 24, 2014 9:05 AM

The pee would have been good for Portland's fighting spirit (ha!). Even UFC fighter Lyoto Machida stated that he drinks his own urine! More on the benefits of "urine therapy" for those for a taste of the wild side.

Disgusting behaviour, but an over-reaction for sure. Problem is, once the video made its way public, there's enough folks that would have demanded "something" be done that a drainage may have been forced by the public anyways. Nowadays there's so much pressure on public officials to "do something" in response to a risk that over-reaction is often scripted into the default response.

Think about those great camping trips where you can drink pure water straight from the lake. All around you there's animal & bird pee etc., dead and decaying creatures in the water, and still in a big volume lake, the water can be purer/cleaner than anything the city can filter.

AlexApril 28, 2014 11:49 AM

What a missed opportunity to educate the public on risks! Seriously, they could have turned this into a great time to showcase their filtration technologies, show how their normal processes would ensure this doesn't affect anyone.

Instead, we get another knee-jerk reaction. Eventually some professional mommy walking her spawn near the reservoir will see a bird take a dump in the water and demand the reservoir be flushed again.

Leave a comment

Allowed HTML: <a href="URL"> • <em> <cite> <i> • <strong> <b> • <sub> <sup> • <ul> <ol> <li> • <blockquote> <pre>

Photo of Bruce Schneier by Per Ervland.

Schneier on Security is a personal website. Opinions expressed are not necessarily those of Resilient Systems, Inc.