Paint prank wastes 40 million gallons of City drinking water

We agree with Portland Commissioner Randy Leonard, who calls the May 6th Mt. Tabor reservoir vandalism “stupid”. See what it takes to clean it up – and get a unique view Reservoir 6 like few others have seen it  – from the bottom up …

Looking down the side, it’s easy to see where a vandal dumped latex paint down in North Reservoir 6 – and threw other trash into OUR drinking water.

Story and photos by David F. Ashton
On May 6, Portland Water Bureau (PWB) workers discovered a gallon milk jug containing latex paint, a vertical, orange construction barricade, a bundle of informational fliers and 5 tennis balls floating in its Mt. Tabor North Reservoir 6.

“The reservoir has been taken off-line and is no longer supplying area residents with water,” advised PWB spokesperson Jennie Day. “Customers are receiving their water directly off the conduit line from Bull Run.”

If you’ve walked around this reservoir, along SE 60th Avenue, a few blocks north of SE Division Street, you’ve probably seen the reservoir – it’s divided into two large “tanks” – with a “fountain” spray on the side that is in use.

Few people have seen the south basin of Mt. Tabor Reservoir 6 from 20 feet below the water line. Soon, as much as 40 million gallons of Bull Run water will be held here before it runs out to neighborhoods around Portland.

The south tank is used to store water for 6 months each year, and the north side stores water the other six months. Unfortunately the vandal polluted the north side – the tank currently in use.

Accelerates anjual cleaning
Because the south side hasn’t been used for months – it was scheduled to be cleaned in June – between 8 and 10 million gallons of water was drained “as quickly as possible” to get it ready for cleaning.

“We have to be careful how quickly we release water into the sewer system,” a PWB worker told us as they power-washed the southern basin. “If we just dumped the water, it would certainly cause a Combined Sewer Outfall into the Willamette River.”

Then, the worker said, the approximately 30 million gallons of water will be drained from the north side of the reservoir to make it ready for cleaning.

A PWB worker uses a jet of water – powered by gravity – to blast away a year’s worth of accumulated debris.

Blasting clean the big basin
It’s difficult to grasp the enormity of a tank designed to hold up to 40 million gallons of water – even when one is standing in the bottom of the basin!

With the permission of the foreman, we walked down the steep ramp that leads to the bottom of the southern basin and watched the crew of 7 workers as they sprayed down the concrete pool.

“We don’t need to use a powered pump power washer,” a worker told us as they wrangled a 1½” diameter “fire hose” on the floor of the reservoir. “Because of our gravity water-feed system, the water shooting out pushes back with about 80 pounds of pressure.”

These two adult PWP workers are dwarfed by the enormous size of the basin.

‘Just plain stupid’
Portland City Commissioner Randy Leonard, the commissioner in charge of the water bureau, talked with us on May 9 about the incident.

“This act is just plain stupid,” Leonard commented. “If it was done by kids, they were acting thoughtlessly. I can’t imagine adults throwing paint into our water system.

“You don’t have to tell responsible people not to throw things into our drinking water. For those who aren’t responsible, we will prosecute them to the full extent of the law. We have a pretty good track record of finding people who endanger our water supply system.”

Installing new surveillance systems
Leonard told us their video system provided images too poor to be useful in the case. “We’ve been planning to install new high-resolution, low-light-capable surveillance systems; it’s now been moved up to top priority.”

Apparently Leonard’s edict for action worked; during our visit to the reservoir, we noticed electricians installing new gear.

After workers clean out the basin, they’ll disinfect it before filling it with drinking water.

High cost of thoughtless action
“I believe the bureau’s administrator, David Shaff, says the expense to deal with quarantining and cleaning the reservoir is around $100,000,” reported Leonard. “It is a shame to think of all that great Bull Run water having to be flushed down the sewer. Someone knows something about this. We hope they do the right thing by coming forward.”

Anyone with any information is encouraged to call Water Bureau Security at (503) 823-6084.

© 2008 David F. Ashton ~ East Portland News

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