Bladdergate: Hetch Hetchy, media shame the wrong guy

Chris Bateman
By Chris Bateman February 14, 2015 11:20
Not Priest Reservoir

Judging by the flow, this is not Priest Reservoir

A Hetch Hetchy water planner got in big trouble at tiny Priest Reservoir last week.

One of Martin Sanchez’s fellow San Francisco employees blew the whistle on him, filing an anonymous complaint with Hetchy higher-ups.  His conduct—reportedly repeated several times—was “disgusting and egregious,” the informant fumed.  He insisted that Sanchez be reprimanded sternly and forthwith.

Ever mindful of the public’s right to know, the informant also tipped off the San Francisco Chronicle, and the story spread like wildfire.  Even CNN breathlessly recounted Sanchez’s alleged misdeeds to the whole nation.

So what exactly did the sinister Mr. Sanchez do?

Did he punch a hole in the reservoir, undermining Hetch Hetchy’s exhaustive drought-control measures?  Did he pump water out of the lake, selling it under the table to communities whose own sources were dry?  Did he surreptitiously dump toxic waste into the reservoir?  Or, fitting the informant’s astronomic outrage, did he plant ebola in its waters?

The answer is heck no to all of the above.  He simply peed in the reservoir—which was empty at the time.  Meaning he peed on the ground.

You read that right.  Martin Sanchez urinated in the Great Outdoors, which is something all red-blooded American males love to do.

Just as he was relieving himself, other guys were no doubt peeing in and on national parks, national monuments, wild and scenic rivers, federally protected wilderness areas, state beaches and vast watersheds that collect drinking water for tens of millions of Americans.

Last week, I’m guessing, guys urinated over the rim of the Grand Canyon, on the Appalachian Trail, into Niagara Falls (from both the Canadian and American sides), on the pyramids of Egypt, within the grounds of the Taj Mahal and into all five Great Lakes and all Seven Seas.

And had the Hetch Hetchy folks had cameras in place, I’ll bet they would have recorded guys peeing in Hetch Hetchy, Eleanor and Cherry lakes—all of which were full.

This, alas, is what guys do.  And until now all of them have escaped the threatened reprimands and public shaming Sanchez has endured.  So how did his particular urination become Bladdergate?  Why, among the millions of guys who let loose outside every day, was he singled out?

“This guy peed in our water supply,” some San Franciscans might huff.  Well, he didn’t.  The small Priest Reservoir, west of Big Oak Flat, had been drained for maintenance and was temporarily out of use.

But what if it wasn’t?  Then Sanchez might have added a couple of teacups of urine to a water system that cranks out 260 million gallons a day.  And before it gets to 2.4 million Bay Area homes, it is thoroughly treated.

To say that Sanchez’s contribution would have been a drop in the bucket is a gross exaggeration.  It is more like a molecule in an ocean—an ounce per 100,000 million gallons of water, according to one report.

But let’s play devil’s advocate here and assume that even one customer had the ability to detect a nearly submicroscopic droplet of human urine in the 200 or more gallons a typical San Francisco household uses every day.  Let’s also assume this customer could differentiate that droplet from traces of the many gallons contributed to the system daily by deer, fox, skunk, coyote, beaver, bear, mountain lion and other critters that pee and defecate on the banks of San Francisco’s reservoirs?

And what about birds, which make deposits from overhead?  Or fish, which not only poop and pee in the water, but—to cleanse the immortal W.C. Fields quote—”f— in it” as well?

This mythical customer, whose palate could miraculously detect human urine (and be pretty sure it was Sanchez’s) in Hetchy water would make those snobs who somehow spots “hints of pomegranate” in a bottle of cabernet look like slobbering drunks.

Finally, a word about urine: Unless the discharger has ingested large amounts of toxins or drugs, the stuff—if not appetizing—is by and large safe.  Even Hetchy spokesman Tyrone Jue admitted that what Sanchez had done “does not pose a health risk.”

That said, however, Jue added that it was “completely unacceptable.”

Know why it was unacceptable?

I’ll answer that with another question: If a guy pees in an empty reservoir and nobody’s there to snitch, did he really pee in the reservoir?

For all practical purposes, the answer is no.  No snitch, no harm, no foul, no Chronicle story, no CNN, no reprimand, no nothing.  Another guy pees in the Great Outdoors and nobody cares.

But in this case, someone did care.  Read the Bladdergate news stories and you’ll learn that Sanchez, who earns $110,000 in his current job, “was in line for a promotion.”  A promotion, I’ll wager, that one of his coworkers did not want him to get.

If nothing else, that snitching coworker knows how the system works: Rat Sanchez out, leak his leak to the press and thus put the Hetchy brass in a politically untenable position.  Think about it: In this highly PC era, could Jue or anyone else say it’s OK to pee in an empty reservoir—even if it is?  Of course not.

Bottom line: There was plenty of “disgusting and egregious” conduct to go around in Bladdergate—none of which was Sanchez’s.

Cowardly and anonymous, the snitch’s actions were particularly disgusting.  Jue’s weren’t much better: “Come to work wearing your big-boy pants or diapers,” he said on CNN.  “If not, you’ll need to find another place to work.”

When times get tough, it’s nice to have an understanding employer who has your back.  But instead Sanchez got public wisecracks made at his considerable expense.

Then there’s the press, which reported this story with all the maturity of snickering fourth-graders at recess.

If any thought was devoted to the consequences of this episode for Sanchez and his family, reportedly well-liked by his Groveland-area friends and neighbors, it was not evident in either the media coverage or Hetch Hetchy’s reaction.

Sanchez could face a five-day suspension without pay for his trumped-up transgression and I’m guessing he won’t get that hoped-for promotion.  But that is nothing contrasted with the undeserved humiliation he, his wife and his children have endured.

Which, pardon the expression, really pisses me off.

 Copyright © 2015 Friends and Neighbors Magazine

Chris Bateman
By Chris Bateman February 14, 2015 11:20
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  1. lacey March 16, 14:57

    I’ve peed in Pinecrest! Several times in fact. And we drink that. Oh and in Melones, Tulloch, the Clavey, the Stanislaus, at Camp Nine, Don Pedro and the Mediterranean. I guess you could put me down for every body of water in the county. Except the Sonora High pool. Haven’t gone in there …. yet 😉

  2. Pissed On January 28, 17:04

    I would like to sincerely thank Mr. Bateman for his very true and awesome article. I couldn’t have said it better myself. And yes it is so said to work for an organization that doesn’t have your back. Thanks again for telling it, like it is!

  3. rocket January 30, 13:07

    very well written article
    mr Sanchez is one of the brightest hardest working employees hetchy has
    and his ( let’s earn our money ) attitude doesn’t sit well with the ( let’s do as little as possible ) bunch he’s surrounded by!
    honestly I don’t know how he and the other work ethic types can take it?
    I’ll drink the water he didn’t pee in , it might make me smarter😄

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