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Portland's 'big flush' proves it: Life's better there than in SoCal

Bill Murray

There’s the TV show “Portlandia,” and then there’s real-life Portland. Sometimes, though, it can be hard to tell them apart.

Call this episode “The Big Flush”: Portland, Ore., officials said Thursday that they have decided to drain a 38-million-gallon reservoir. Why? Because a 19-year-old man was caught on video urinating into the water. (In Portland, he qualifies as a “whiz kid,” I suppose.)

Still, the deed is done. Nothing left to do but flush.

“That water goes directly into people’s homes. There is no way to retreat it,” said David Shaff, Portland Water Bureau administrator. Meaning, I guess, that “toilet to tap” is no more popular there than it is in Los Angeles.

But say, Dave, I don’t suppose there’s any way to pump it a few hundred miles south? Because here in thirsty Southern California, the move seems a tad, well, wasteful. Taunting, almost. We’re being urged not to flush so often; you’re flushing away 38 million gallons because one young man used it as his personal bathroom. I know we have strict standards here in California, but even in Oregon that doesn’t seem to qualify as a low-flow toilet.

But in water-rich Oregon, it’s no big deal, Shaff said: “We are not in the arid Southwest. We have hundreds of millions of gallons available, so that makes it an easy call for me [to discard the water].”

And not only does Portland have more water, it apparently has more money. Shaff estimated that it will cost several thousand dollars to clean the reservoir and replace the water. (And yes, I too pictured the scene in “Caddyshack” where Bill Murray disinfects the pool after a floating Baby Ruth bar causes panic on caddie swim day at the country club!)

Now, some practical folks might say that, this being an open-air reservoir and all, it’s possible — just spitballing here, mind you — that some other stuff might get into that reservoir on a daily basis. Birds fly over it; animals come to visit it; heck, maybe it even has fish or two in it. Not to mention the fact that one person urinating into 38 million gallons of water didn’t exactly poison the well.

Then again, once the news broke — complete with videotape evidence — what’s a city administrator to do? Call if the “broken toilet” theory of water use: If you let one small incident pass, how can your customers ever trust you again?

So in the end, my fellow Angelenos, it pains me to say it but I’m forced to admit the truth: The grass is greener somewhere else. Here in Los Angeles, we’ve got broken streets and sidewalks left and right and not enough money to fix them. Plus not enough water to fill our pools.

But in heaven on Earth — I mean, Portland — money grows on trees and water flows endlessly.

Pack up the U-Haul, honey, we’re moving.

And you can leave all that bottled water behind.

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