A toilet project; carpet-bombing trout; the ick factor

Mishaps and mayhem from around the region.

  • Colorado: Seems that way, doesn't it?

    Greg Pelland

Sooner or later, it’s coming: the Really Big One, a massive Northwestern earthquake that will shake infrastructure to rubble and drench seaside towns with tsunami waters. Electric grids will go dark, bridges will crumble, solid ground will liquefy, and residents will find themselves in deep doo-doo — literally. When sewage systems fail, millions of pounds of human feces will have nowhere to go, thereby creating one of America’s grossest public health disasters. That’s why five Portland counties, with help from the delightfully named nonprofit PHLUSH, have launched the Emergency Toilet Project, an exercise in crisis potty-training. The goal is to convince Northwesterners to include two buckets — one for No. 1, the other for No. 2 — along with food and water in their earthquake preparedness kits. According to Oregon Public Broadcasting, the project recommends “lining the poo bucket with a heavy-duty 13-gallon garbage bag and then covering each use with sawdust, shredded paper, or grass clippings to help dry the excrement.” The fate of those poop bags, however, remains unknown. And there will be a lot of poop bags. Said Sue Mohnkern, a program supervisor in Hillsboro: “The average person poops about half a pound a day — not something I knew before I got into this particular project.”

Speaking of innovative waste management, a few Treasure Valley breweries will soon begin slinging suds concocted from recycled wastewater. Although it might be hard for Gem State drinkers to overcome what one brewer calls “the ick factor,” the Idaho Statesman points out that recycled water is “cleaner than the liquid pouring from your kitchen tap” — so clean, in fact, that brewers will actually have to add minerals like calcium to it. The toilet-to-tap ales, invented to raise Idaho’s water conservation awareness, will be whipped up using technologies such as reverse-osmosis systems and “a mobile purification truck from Arizona.” The greatest challenge, the Statesman reports, is naming the beverages: “Brown Trout” has already been vetoed by the city of Boise, which is evidently not as open about excrement as Portland.

Naval Base Kitsap, a command center on Puget Sound, is home to the Pacific Northwest’s largest concentration of maritime weaponry, including a nuclear-powered aircraft carrier and 14 submarines. But even the U.S. Navy was baffled by the bizarre ordnance that drifted over to nearby Brownsville Marina on Aug. 28: a spherical hunk of metal, encrusted with “decades of marine growth,” that officials identified as an old mine of uncertain origins that had broken free from its moorings. The Navy and Coast Guard swiftly secured the area, establishing a 1,500-yard perimeter and advising locals to avoid windows. Later that day, as The Seattle Times reports, two Navy divers — presumably the ones who drew the short straws — tied a rope to the mine, towed it to safety, and, at 8:04 p.m., blew it to smithereens. According to a spokesman, the fact that the detonation didn’t trigger a second blast suggested the mine was inert — a revelation that probably came as cold comfort to all the salmon fishermen who’d blithely boated over the antique explosive as it bobbed around the Pacific. 

Now for some very different mine-related news. Ever since its underground wealth helped the Union win the Civil War, Nevada’s identity has been tied to mineral extraction. So it makes sense that a Silver State company is investing in mining’s next expansion: to the Final Frontier. On Aug. 29, the Las Vegas Review-Journal reported that the Nevada Institute for Autonomous Systems, an R&D center for drones, is partnering with a Polish company to develop techniques “that could be used to mine areas on the moon, Mars or asteroids.” One corporation has already expressed its optimistic intention to begin gouging minerals from asteroids as soon as 2023. No word on whether the new industry will be subject to NEPA, the Clean Water Act, or intergalactic sage grouse management plans. 

Next time you fish in an alpine lake, take a moment to wonder how its trout got there. One possible answer: They fell out of the sky. Aerial fish-stocking began in the mid-1940s, when game agencies hired newly returned pilots to carpet-bomb mountain lakes with fry. Despite the practice’s venerable history, some folks were shocked by a recent mesmerizing video of piscine paratroopers plummeting into Raft Lake. The Utah Division of Wildlife Resources responded reassuringly: “Think of it as a high diver diving into a deep pool of water.” A very high diver. 

A UPS driver attempting to deliver a package to the Great Falls home of novelist Jamie Ford was thwarted by an unexpected ursine obstacle. Instead of the parcel he expected, Ford received a form with a single line explaining its absence: “Bear in driveway.” And you urban mail carriers thought yappy little terriers were a problem.

Tips and photos of Western oddities are appreciated and often shared in this column. Write [email protected] or tag photos #heardaroundthewest on Instagram.


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