Jayson Jacoby
The Baker City Herald

By Terri Harber


No signs of cryptosporidium were detected in raw water samples taken from the Baker City water supply on Sept. 15 and 18, city councilors learned Tuesday.

In addition, a sample of water from Elk Creek collected on Sept. 15 also came back negative for crypto, Michelle Owen, the city's public works director, said during Tuesday's City Council meeting.

A sample from Elk Creek taken on Aug. 4 contained 913 crypto oocysts; no other water sample taken since the crypto outbreak was confirmed in late July has contained more than three oocysts.

The city has not used Elk Creek water since Aug. 7, the day officials received lab test results from the Aug. 4 sample.

Councilors learned Tuesday that city officials are working on a streamlined schedule that would allow construction to begin next spring on an ultraviolet light treatment plant.

The goal is to have the plant operating before the end of 2014. UV light inactivates crypto oocysts, and meets federal requirements for protecting unfiltered surface water from the parasite.

Bryan Black, vice president of HDR Inc. in Portland, the city's engineering firm on the UV project, explained why changing the planning and construction process for this project is important.

Starting additional treatment as soon as possible would "reduce the risk of any more cryptosporidium illnesses in the city," he said.

The city has scheduled a public hearing during the City Council's Oct. 8 meeting to give residents a chance to comment on the plan to expedite the construction of the UV treatment plant.

Although no exact source has been confirmed, state health officials believe the city's water was responsible for the crypto outbreak that sicked hundreds of people in July and August.

That outbreak prompted city officials, who had been working under a state deadline of Oct. 1, 2016, to install some kind of crypto treatment, to accelerate the schedule.

Although Baker City is not required to filter its drinking water to meet federal standards, the city does add chlorine to the water as a disinfectant.

Chlorine is not effective, though, against crypto, which has a protective shell.

Construction of the plant was supposed to begin June 2014 and end June 2015.

HDR suggests the city use a process that would allow officials to pick a general contractor by Nov. 1 of this year -- even though design of the plant won't be complete then.

The firm selected to provide both construction and contractor services would collaborate with the designers to create a project concept.

Choice of a contractor would be based on applicants' qualifications, recommendations and pricing, Black said.

The alternative planning method also would allow the general contractor to put out key subcontracting bids and proceed toward a construction starting date of March 1, 2014.

Black said the normal design-bid-build path could cause the project to lag "too much into next summer."

Having the general contractor around early also could prove helpful if there is a need to add temporary water treatment to the system before the plant is complete. It's something that would be "very good, given the water situation here in town," Black said.

In addition to the public hearing scheduled for Oct. 8, the city will appoint an interview committee to help with selection of the contractor before that choice is approved by the councilors.

The committee would include a council member, city employees and one or more representatives from HDR. HDR would only provide advice and not actually choose a contractor.

Groundwater source potential highlighted

Another issue that has arisen since the crypto outbreak is whether the city can supplement its surface water with new wells.

An employee with Oregon's Water Resources Department reported that there's no "definitive answer as to whether or not Baker City could obtain new groundwater rights for municipal use."

Ivan Gall, a groundwater section manager, wrote in a letter to the city that review of applications for new groundwater rights usually take six months to a year. Gall also said there were only four sites with characteristics that match the city's existing well structure.

"...There are not many wells that in the area that produce groundwater sufficient for municipal purposes," he wrote.

Only two of nine moderate- to high-producing wells are owned by the city: one is at the reservoir and the other at Quail Ridge Golf Course.

A contractor, Riverside Inc., of Parma, Idaho, is upgrading the well at the golf course to meet current standards.

Its pump and cable need to be rebuilt or replaced, as does the pump column pipe and pump cable conduit. Its electrical service also needs work.

And it would require sampling to see if it was a good water source, Owen said.

The amount of water it could produce would be lower than earlier anticipated: 200 to 250 gallons per minute, not 300 to 330 as was previously thought.

Bringing the well into working order "is not quite as easy as I had hoped," Owen said.

This source alone will cost the city more than $67,000 to improve -- excluding the water tests.

Electronic attendance ban stopped

A resolution amendment, No. 3708, prohibiting electronic attendance of council meetings by councilors, failed Tuesday.

The councilors ended up with a tied vote, 3-3, and Councilor Dennis Dorrah had family business and couldn't attend the meeting.

Dorrah first sought the prohibition on electronic attendance during the Aug. 27 meeting.

Mayor Richard Langrell and Councilors Clair Button and Roger Coles joined with Dorrah to support such a change in council rules.

Councilor Barbara Johnson was one of the three members who voted against the ban.

"I feel it's a step backward in this day and age," she said.

Langrell replied that he thought it was important to be at the meetings because being around the city staff and public provides a lot of information to help make decisions.

It would take three councilors to have the resolution brought back for further consideration.

In other business, the councilors:

andbull; Accepted second reading of Ordinance No. 3325, which removes all references to regulation of firearms in Baker City's public parks.

andbull; Accepted third reading of the Economic Improvement District Ordinance, No. 3324, for the downtown area. A public hearing will take place in November.

andbull; Awarded a $500 grant Big Deal grant to Roberta McCall and Walter Wells to paint 1600 Resort St.

andbull; Approved a social gaming license for the Baker Elks Lodge.