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Tuesday, February 10, 2015

Why You Don't Need to Freak Out That a City Worker Peed in S.F.'s Reservoirs

Posted By on Tue, Feb 10, 2015 at 3:57 PM

click to enlarge Can you taste the rainbow? - SFPUC
  • Can you taste the rainbow?
This is a freaky city, but one with limits. Pee-play has to be consensual in order to be acceptable. It certainly cannot be one-sided secretive act carried out by ...  a city employee.

Revelations that San Francisco has apparently been drinking Martin Sanchez's urine for some time now have earned the city headlines in CNN and other national outlets. Sanchez, a $111,000-a-year worker with the San Francisco Public Utilities Commission, was recently busted peeing into an  empty reservoir.

This wasn't his first time making water in our water: he'd made it a ritual of his to relieve himself in a city reservoir on special occasions, the Chronicle's Matier and Ross reported.

This begs the question: are we drinking other peoples' pee, too? And does it matter?

SFPUC officials were quick to point out that there was no health hazard posed by Sanchez's most recent pee stop at Priest Reservoir, one of the many stops the city's drinking water makes on its way from Hetch Hetchy Reservoir in Yosemite National Park to our taps and toilets.

Priest was drained for maintenance at the time Sanchez peed into it on Jan. 6, the SFPUC noted. However, coworkers had complained of him peeing into it "several times," an anonymous tipster told the Chron, including the day he learned he was going to be promoted.

So we've tasted Sanchez's pee before, in our highly touted municipal drinking water — and to no ill effects, because urine, while not sterile, is not really that toxic.

The human bladder holds between 16 and 24 ounces of fluid, but people feel the need to urinate at about a quarter-full, according to
For fun, let's assume Sanchez released about 12 ounces of yellow into our water at any one time. He did so into a reservoir that holds up to 675 million gallons of water, part of the flow that delivers between 170 and 205 million gallons of water a day to Bay Area taps and toilets.
click to enlarge Where the pee came from.
  • Where the pee came from.
Urine is 95 percent water and 5 percent waste materials: urea, ammonia, excess nitrogen, and potassium, as well as other things the body does not need. So after Sanchez relieved himself, there was less than a fluid ounce of potentially toxic material per several hundred million gallons of water.

Not that we're defending anyone yellowing our water (and certainly not the weekend after, judging by the ammonia-like smell in our street-level garage, someone peed on our house).

But other than Sanchez, who or what else is peeing in our water? Sure, boating is restricted on city reservoirs, but there's very little stopping animals like birds from flying over Crystal Springs, Hetch Hetchy, or any other reservoir and letting fly. 

Are bird turds Hetch Hetchy's secret? We asked SFPUC spokesman Tyrone Jue to find out. We'll update if we hear back. 

Meanwhile, some cultures around the world believe in "urine therapy," in which the human body's health is aided by the consumption of urine. Maybe we should thank Sanchez for how great we've felt lately. 

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About The Author

Chris Roberts

Chris Roberts has spent most of his adult life working in San Francisco news media, which is to say he's still a teenager in Middle American years. He has covered marijuana, drug policy, and politics for SF Weekly since 2009.

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