City water supply: Not a toilet, even for drunks.
  • Water Bureau
  • City water supply: Not a toilet, even for drunks.
When an apparently drunk man peed in a Mount Tabor reservoir around 1:30am last night, he set off an unprecedented chain reaction.

A security officer who had been watching the man and his four friends drinking from the reservoir guard tower alerted police, then called on the water bureau to take the reservoir offline. Using a new $23 million remote control system, just installed in April, the bureau immediately shut off the pipes leading from the reservoir. The guard and a police officer confronted the men and got their information, including the alleged 21-year-old pee-er.

Then, the water bureau made the call to dump the entire 7.2 million gallons of water in the reservoir, at a cost of over $35,000.* That's one expensive trip to the bathroom.

On top of that, the city is working with the district attorney to consider pressing charges against the pee-er, perhaps to help recoup some of the cost. Water Bureau administrator David Shaff isn't sure what the charge would be exactly, "Well, I just dumped 8 million gallons, there's maybe a 'theft' in there somewhere... He has some idea that he's made a mistake, but he has no idea how big."

I asked Shaff whether they follow the same protocol—shutting off the water and dumping the whole reservoir—when an animal urinates or dies in the water (last year, bird poop caused an E. coli scare in westside water).

"If we did that, we'd be shutting it off all the time. We fish out animals or things that have blown in all the time," said Shaff. So why shut it off the water for human pee? Especially if it sends $35,000 down the drain?

"Do you want to be drinking someone's pee?" replied Shaff. Um, no. "Okay, there you go, there's your answer. We are being incredibly conservative and cautious. It simply makes sense. There's probably no regulation that says I have to be doing it but, again, who wants to be drinking pee? "

In his six years at the water bureau, Shaff says he has never heard of someone being caught peeing into a reservoir. But in 2008, the bureau pressed charges against two people caught skinny dipping in Mt. Tabor's water. The nudity-infected water was not dumped and the culprits were sentenced to just 16 hours of community service.

*Anyone listening in to city council this morning will note that Shaff told the commissioners the total clean up cost would be $600,000. He later called to correct that figure.