Perhaps you’ve heard about the pee in Portland, Ore., that led to city officials draining about 8 million gallons of water from a reservoir there. On one level, it is, of course, funny. Pardon the 5-year-old in me. But it’s mostly quite frustrating that one man’s pee could cause so much waste.
That frustration is being felt around the world, as shown in the BBC story linked to above.
Some eight million gallons of treated drinking water have been flushed down the drain in the US state of Oregon after a man urinated into a reservoir. Did such a vast amount of water have to be dumped?
“Nobody wants to drink pee, and I don’t want to deal with the 100 people who would be unhappy that I’m serving them pee in their water.”
Those are the words of David Shaff, a water bureau official in Oregon’s biggest city Portland, after flushing away 32 million litres of water.
They decided to take the drastic action after security cameras caught a 21-year-old man urinating into an uncovered reservoir. The water had already been purified and was to go directly to homes.
Toxicologist Prof Alan Boobis is “flabbergasted” by what he says is a complete overreaction.
“In a healthy person, urine is sterile. It’s something we can say with confidence – it’s not going to have any impact on anyone whatsoever.”
He says even if chemicals were in the urine, they would not be in large enough quantities to cause damage.
“We are exposed to chemicals all the time but the intake is already below a level that’s going to cause harm.
“Urine contains a whole range of substances that the body has no need for. It might contain chemicals that are potentially harmful but the levels are going to be very low when expelled by the body, and even lower when diluted by water.”
Prof Boobis, from Imperial College London, points out that the reservoir already probably contained urine from fish and animals.
It’s an interesting article and worth a read.
All this talk of pee and waste reminded me of a conservation column I wrote in 2009.
Oh, and I’ll do my best to not discuss pee on this blog again for a very long time. 🙂
Here is, believe it or not, my award-winning column from the Press & Dakotan:
I’ve never peed in the shower.
Well, not that I remember, anyway.
But I’m tempted to start.
Hold on. Before you blacklist me from your shower, let me explain.
You see, it’s for the environment.
People of my generation were always told by Kermit the Frog — though maybe not quite in this context — that it’s not easy being green. Despite my concerns about the environment, that’s been a pretty constant refrain in my life for not doing many eco-friendly activities beyond recycling. Maybe you can relate.
Stop eating meat? Too hard.
Ride my bike to the store instead of drive? Impossible.
Take fewer showers during the week? Disgusting.
But peeing in the shower? I do think it’s kind of gross, but I could do that.
It all started when I saw an infectious animated television ad from a Brazilian environmental group named SOS Mata Atlantica that features various people and entities, ranging from Gandhi and Frankenstein to King Kong, urinating in the shower.
Why? Because they argue that doing so could save a toilet flush — and therefore 1,157 gallons of water annually per household. That’s a lot of water.
The concept sounds pretty silly to me, I’ll admit. But it really is a serious small step toward addressing a big issue.
Water shortages are no laughing matter; something we have the luxury of forgetting because we have the good fortune of living along the Missouri River. This ad got me thinking more seriously about other small steps I could take to become more eco-friendly.
I grew up on a farm, so there was rarely a meal where I didn’t consume pork or beef. I can’t imagine a life without meat. But maybe I could imagine a life with less of it.
I’m proud of the way we raise animals on our family farm. But farms like ours are a minority. Many of the 60 billion animals raised for food each year spend their lives on factory farms under deplorable conditions. I think many people are just waking up to the implications of our food habits and finding that the way those animals are treated is morally unacceptable.
But let’s set that aside for now and focus on the amount of resources it takes to support our growing meat habit around the world. According to “Food Matters: A Guide To Conscious Eating,” it takes 40 calories of fossil fuel to produce one calorie of beef protein. To produce one calorie of corn takes only 2.2 calories of fossil fuel.
If I were to eat chicken, fish or eggs one day a week instead of red meat, the reduction in the amount of greenhouse gases expended would be the equivalent of driving 760 miles less a year. If I just ate vegetables on that one day, the number would increase to 1,160 miles.
Those are big numbers for a little adjustment. I think I could swallow that.
And according to Mother Jones, every time I cut my hot shower by one minute, I reduce my carbon imprint by a quarter pound. I would like to assume that, even if I do take the time for a whiz, I could shave a minute off my shower time!
So putting a little thought into becoming more green, I’m beginning to see hope for a creature of habit like me. Maybe it’s not as hard as I thought.
Unfortunately, the key to reducing consumption and preserving the environment does not lie with just you and me. It lies with all of us.
While I think it is important to take personal responsibility when it comes to stewardship of the world in which we live, I also believe that responsibility extends to encouraging government action on these issues. This is a systemic problem — we live under an economic paradigm that encourages endless, and often mindless, consumption with little regard for the long-term consequences. Unless there are society-wide changes, a little less meat here or a little shorter shower there is not going to come close to addressing the environmental problems we face.
And in that case, it will be more than just my yellow stuff going down the drain …