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Portland reservoir as a latrine? It'll be moot once EPA rule kicks in

 

Portland's now-infamous teenager who was caught on camera urinating into a reservoir there apparently told an online news site that he was relieving himself on a wall.

Although tests on the open-air reservoir came back clean, the ick factor was enough for officials to go ahead with their plan to drain all 38 million gallons of drinking water and send it into the sea.

Amid the controversy over that decision, the incident spotlights a U.S. Environmental Protection Agency rule that goes into effect next April, requiring that all reservoirs holding drinkable water are either covered or pass water to a retreatment plant before being sent to taps.

When the EPA approved the regulation in 2006, more than half of U.S. residents were getting water directly from open-air reservoirs.

The reservoir implicated in the peeing scandal was already scheduled to be taken offline next year as part of the EPA mandate.

Some communities have already complied; others such as Los Angeles, Seattle and Portland are making progress.

Portland, however, along with other cities, has argued that the regulation is too onerous, citing the costs of covering reservoirs. The EPA says that consumers around the country will pay only $12 more a year as a result of the rule and that a couple of hundred premature deaths will be avoided annually.

The EPA’s rule seeks to reduce the number of deaths associated with the disease Cryptosporidium, which typically is found in human or animal feces, not urine. It's especially common in HIV-positive people, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

The CDC says the disease, along with E. coli and other bacteria, ends up in the water supply through sewage spills, storm runoff and flooding near farms.

The best way to get rid of Cryptosporidium is to boil the water, zap it with ultraviolet light or run it through special filters, according to the CDC, and trying to kill it using chlorine doesn’t work.

The fear over Cryptosporidium started in 1993, when at least 69 people were killed in Milwaukee because of an outbreak in the water system. Still, many health officials and politicians think the new rule won't be of much help. The EPA is reviewing whether to alter its rule, but a decision won't come until 2016 under the EPA's timeline.

While local water authorities have fought the rule, some community members have been excited to take advantage of the space above now-covered or retired reservoirs. Turning the spots into parks or gardens is becoming a common theme nationwide.

In Portland, the Multnomah County district attorney's office was waiting Friday for the file from the Portland Water Bureau about the public urinator, identified as Dallas Swonger, and three friends. Swonger told Internet news site Vocativ.com that his action wasn't a joke, he just needed to go.

Once the file is received and reviewed, prosecutors said they will decide whether to file charges.

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paresh.dave@latimes.com

Copyright © 2014, Los Angeles Times
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