Baker City has little in common with Portland.
Except for cryptosporidium.
When it comes to that pesky waterborne parasite, we run in the same circles as Oregon’s largest city.
Well, sort of.
Both cities get their water from surface streams that flow through a forested watershed where access by people is severely restricted, but where elk, deer and other wildlife roam free.
Both cities are among the four in Oregon that do not have to filter their surface water to meet federal drinking water standards (the two other cities qualifying for this rare exemption are Bend and Reedsport).
The attitudes of officials in Portland and Baker City toward crypto, and the threat it poses to their constituents’ health, however, is rather different.
Baker City officials certainly hadn’t made crypto their top priority until hundreds of people were sickened with crypto over the past few weeks.
But the city did, a few years ago, pretty much settle on installing an ultraviolet light treatment plant, and in fact had started the preliminary work on the project.
Portland officials, meanwhile, have consistently argued that their city shouldn’t have to do anything to protect Bull Run water against crypto.
Portland even convinced the Oregon Health Authority’s Drinking Water Program, in 2012, to grant the city the first, and so far the only, variance to the federal law that requires Baker City to begin treating its water to remove the crypto threat by Oct. 1, 2016.
The 10-year deal allows Portland to avoid building a treatment plant, in exchange for doing regular testing for crypto in its water supply.
What strikes us as especially interesting, though, is that until the crypto outbreak that has caused so much trouble in Baker City this summer, our experience with crypto had been similar to Portland’s.
In 2010 and 2011, three of 24 samples of Baker City water contained a small amount of crypto — two oocysts in one sample, and one oocyst in each of two samples. No cases of infection were reported during that period.
In late December 2011 and early January 2012, three samples of Portland water also contained crypto, and at precisely the same amounts as Baker City’s samples — two oocysts in one sample, one in each of two others.
Portland, unlike Baker City, has continued to test for crypto since its positive tests, and has not found any oocysts in several hundred other samples.
We’re more than a little surprised that, so far as we can tell based on media coverage, Baker City’s crypto outbreak hasn’t attracted much attention in Portland or the other cities that buy Bull Run water.
We’re surprised because the similarities between the two cities’ water supplies, and their vulnerabilities to crypto, are so striking. If nothing else, Baker City’s experience is compelling evidence that the potential for Portland’s water to be contaminated with infectious levels of crypto probably is not so remote as Portland officials have argued.
And for sheer numbers, Portland has us beat in a big way. Close to 1 million people — about one in every four Oregonians — drink Bull Run water. That’s a lot of potential illness.
The world’s automakers seem bent on making it easier for people to do everything in their cars.
Which seems to me a curious oversight.
Not so bad as forgetting the steering wheel or leaving off the lug nuts, of course, but curious just the same.
The most significant change in the automobile interior over the past decade is the proliferation of devices designed to help drivers communicate with people who are somewhere else.
(Like as not these other people are also driving, possibly in the next lane.)
Carbuilders boast of how “connected” or “wired” their latest models are. I envision Ricardo Montalbán extolling not “rich Corinthian leather” but “rich Bluetooth capability.”
I’m hardly immune to the enticing nature of this technology. I’m enthralled by the notion of someday owning a car that’s a mobile wi-fi hotspot. The concept of hooking up to Skype and having a friend’s or relative’s face show up on a video screen in the middle of the dashboard has a Star Wars flavor to it that makes me wonder whether the era of the long-awaited flying car is impending.
Except it’s dangerous enough to have people carrying on conversations, or Googling “road rage,” while they’re rolling along at 65 mph.
We don’t want them sharing airspace with 747s.
“Hold on, tower control, I can’t land until this YouTube video is over. You won’t believe how cute these kittens are!”
Carmakers, of course, tout their latest options as “hands-free,” which enables people to update their Facebook profile without taking their hands off the wheel.
This sounds like progress.
Except a study commissioned by AAA concluded that that’s not necessarily true.
In fact, researchers found that in some cases using a hands-free device to have a conversation or send an email can distract a driver more than holding a phone and talking into it.
This level of distraction has been compared — and this is the scary part — with driving while intoxicated.
Funny, though, you don’t see automakers installing beer taps — not even ones with a Camelbak-like tube that juts out of the headrest so you can guzzle brew hands-free.
Cars aren’t always in motion, of course.
And I’m not a bit troubled by a person sitting in a parked car, texting or tweeting or whatever.
Except this technology doesn’t turn off when the engine is turned on. And you needn’t be an expert on human behavior to know that if you can do something while driving, you will.
(McDonald’s probably wouldn’t exist otherwise.)
It would be a great pity, it seems to me, if our highways, which have been getting safer for the past few decades, turned more dangerous even as our cars are better able to protect us in a crash.
In 2011, a total of 32,367 people were killed in traffic crashes on U.S. roads. That was the fewest deaths in a year since 1949.
Even more impressive than the raw numbers is the fatality rate, since the latter takes into account the vast increase in the number of cars and the miles traveled.
The most-used measure is the number of deaths per 100 million vehicle miles traveled.
The rate in 1949 was 7.13 deaths.
In 2011 it was 1.10.
This nearly miraculous improvement is due in large part to cars being vastly safer. In 1949 life-savers such as anti-lock brakes, airbags and crumple zones were more in the realm of fantasy than assembly line fact.
Back then carbuilders designed parts to look neat, and never mind that the stylish steering wheel hub, in any crash over 20 mph, would skewer you as efficiently as one of Vlad the Impaler’s stakes.
Today the engineers, having taken auto safety about as far as physics allows (roadside oak trees being rarely equipped with air bags) are turning their prodigious abilities to matters of convenience and utility.
This isn’t necessarily a disaster, of course.
I like mp3 jacks and USB ports as much as the next driver.
But I also cling to the quaint notion that piloting a vehicle with competence and single-minded focus is not merely the driver’s most important task.
It’s his only one.
Facebook can wait.
The little kid who just chased his wayward rubber ball into the street can’t.
Jayson Jacoby is editor
of the Baker City Herald.
Drinking tap water not the norm in the world
First of all, most of the world never drinks water directly from the tap. This is because it proves more economical to drink bottled water rather than treat, filter and chlorinate water that is going to be used for the garden, flushing toilets, washing clothes, etc. and of which only a small percentage will be consumed. If one doesn’t have sufficient cash for bottled water, one can boil water either to set aside or make tea or other beverages.
That there are more questions about Baker City’s crypto outbreak than answers is frustrating, to residents and city officials alike.
This is, unfortunately, the nature of the microscopic parasite.
It is difficult, and perhaps will prove impossible, to ever trace this outbreak, which has sickened several hundred people, to its source.
Yet there are other vital questions for which answers should be more readily available.
The Baker County Chamber of Commerce has decided to end its role in organizing Miners Jubilee, but we’re confident that Baker City’s annual July event will persist.
There is a cadre of dedicated volunteers, from service clubs and other groups as well as individuals, who are capable of taking over the Chamber’s tasks, such as signing up vendors for Geiser-Pollman Park, organizing the parade and coordinating the Jubilee button design contest.
We hope too that other organizations which coordinate aspects of the community festival will continue to do so.
These include Historic Baker City Inc., which handles the duck and beaver races, the bed races and other events, the Eastern Oregon Mining Association’s popular displays and contests and the Lions Club’s breakfasts.
This evolution of Miners Jubilee could also result in changes that benefit the event as a whole.
Baker City has an active art community, including the Baker Art Guild, Crossroads Carnegie Art Center and several galleries. We’d like to see more local artists and crafters displaying their works in the park.
And we’d welcome a revival of scheduling local musicians to perform in the park during Jubilee.
Miners Jubilee has some momentum, in part because it’s become the weekend when Baker High School graduates gather for class reunions.
And although public drunkenness and other problems were unusually common during this year’s event, Police Chief Wyn Lohner has been talking with officials from the bull and bronc riding events that, although not officially part of Miners Jubilee, share the weekend and have become mainstay events.
We think this year’s rash of incidents will turn out to be an anomaly.
Ultimately, Miners Jubilee is a community celebration, and as such it can’t last without the support of the community.
We believe that support exists, and that it will show itself in the 2014 Jubilee.
Trust, as anyone knows whose mother ever nabbed him filching jelly beans from the candy drawer, is far more easily lost than regained.
Baker City’s water supply, I’m afraid, is that little boy with sugar crusted around his mouth.
And all of us who rely on that water, well, we’re the mom with a scowl on her face.
This state of affairs, this suddenly rampant suspicion of our once-reliable faucets, saddens me.
It is no exaggeration to indulge in cliché and call it the end of an era.
Appalled by Herald’s story about Don Phillips
I am appalled by the story on Don Phillips!
I understand that Mrs. Phillips requested this article be written and provided the Herald with the photograph. This piece is a flagrant attempt to rehabilitate Mr. Phillip’s reputation following the sexual abuse he was recently charged with committing, and the plea agreement he reached with the court.
Don Phillips pled guilty to harassment and is currently serving two years probation. He must perform community service. He has been fined and is not allowed to have contact with underage females without the supervision of their parent or guardian. Your article very conveniently omitted these important facts. Does the Herald believe that this is the kind of individual who should represent the best of Baker City?
The child he hurt is still hurting. She has continual nightmares and will no longer go outside to play. She is fearful of going to the store in the event that she might see Don Phillips. Perhaps this is the story the Baker Herald should have written: It could be titled “The Damaged Child, What One Man Can Do to Damage a Child For a Lifetime.”
The Baker City Herald should represent the entire Baker community. It should provide all the factual information about a person they are featuring. I am stunned that you would write an article like this without looking into this person’s agenda or into their personal history.
Mother of the child
Editor’s Note: The writer’s name is withheld because the Baker City Herald’s policy is to not identify victims of abuse, including not naming relatives, which could make it easier to identify the victim. The writer of the letter also was not named in news stories about Phillips’ guilty plea.
Climate change dissenters don’t get fair shake
Nearly a century ago, Trofim Lysenko, a Russian botanist, disagreed with Mendelian genetics, which explain how the characteristics of parents are passed on to their children. He believed that parents could pass on acquired traits- when a man develops his musculature, his children will be born with stronger muscles. This is pure hokum, but it did fit in with the then-dominant Communist ideology, which had Soviet New Man building a socialist utopia. This being Stalin’s Soviet Union, opposing scientists often had a black police van filled with goons pay them a midnight visit; they were never heard from again. Other scientists took the hint, and for several decades, Lysenko’s quack biology was “settled science” in that great nation.
Careful measurements have shown that the world’s climate warmed up during the 20th century. The theory of human-caused catastrophic climate change, however, is based mostly on computer models. But in a world where the flutter of butterfly wings in Tokyo can significantly impact Oregon weather, the world’s climate is far too complex to be reduced to a simple computer model. Yet this shakily based theory is helpful to big government advocates. After all, if we believe the fate of mankind rests in the balance, we’re more likely to accept the next governmental power grab.
This is not the Soviet Union, thank God, and so dissenting scientists do not disappear into black police vans. But Climategate e-mails revealed how opposing opinion has been squelched. Dissenting scientists do not receive grants to continue their research; they are not invited to speak at prestigious scientific conclaves; their papers are not published in scientific journals; they are publicly ridiculed, such as Al Gore’s quip that those who disagree with him “still believe that the world is flat.” So scientists have learned to “go along to get along.”
It’s ironic that in a recent letter, Gary Dielman brought up Galileo’s treatment, as Oregon has its very own Galileo: George Taylor was removed from his post as Oregon’s climatologist because he does not agree with the theory of catastrophic climate change. Trofim Lysenko would have been proud!
Until Thursday afternoon, we were generally pleased with Baker City officials’ efforts to get important information to the public about the crypto crisis.
We’re not pleased any more.
Quite the opposite in fact.
With probably the most important fact yet revealed in this episode in its hands between 9 a.m. and 10 a.m. Wednesday — that a water sample taken Sunday from Elk Creek contained a vastly higher amount of crypto than any previous sample from any source — the city didn’t post the information to its website.
As of 10 a.m. today that was still the case.
We need more published proof of crypto
Dozens of Baker City residents have recently suffered from digestive illnesses, blamed on cryptosporidium.
The only way to confirm that cryptosporidium caused the illnesses, is by multiple lab tests of the people who got sick. Most of these would then have to show a preponderance of the little beasties, in at least a majority of the affected people.
Remember, those who have gotten sick represent a tiny fraction (roughly, less than one percent) of people who’ve been drinking city water without getting sick. Also, scores of other factors can cause similar digestive diseases.
We understand that Baker City Council members and the county commissioners have been busy this past week, but their duties as elected officials during the crypto outbreak don’t exempt them from Oregon’s public meetings law.
We were disappointed to learn that a quorum of both bodies convened last week without giving the legally required public notification.
City Manager Mike Kee told us the mistake won’t happen again, and we believe him.
He also pointed out that the purpose of the meeting was not for officials to make decisions, but rather to get information.
We believe that, too, but the state law makes no such distinctions, as of course it should not. After all, if elected officials could meet in private, unpublicized venues except when they make decisions, they could do all the important business, all the haggling that goes into making a decision, outside the public’s purview.
Other than violating the public meetings law, officials, both elected and administrative, have mainly done a good job during this crisis. Although they could make better use of websites and social media.
Residents will get a chance to hear from the City Council on Thursday evening, eight days after the city announced the crypto outbreak.
That meeting, fortunately, was announced four days in advance.