Baker City's dilemma

By Baker City Herald Editorial Board October 27, 2011 09:54 pm

Baker City officials have a dilemma on their hands.

One source is a parasite, cryptosporidium, that can leave you suffering from diarrhea and nausea if it gets into your stomach.

The other source is perhaps even more insidious: the federal government.

The nation’s worst crypto outbreak happened in 1993 in Milwaukee, Wis. More than 400,000 became ill after the city’s drinking water became contaminated with crypto. About 50 people died, most of them AIDS patients or people whose immune systems were weakened by another affliction.

The Milwaukee outbreak prompted the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), about a decade ago, to enact a new rule that affects all public drinking-water systems.

The bottom line for Baker City is that, by Oct. 1, 2016, the city must disinfect its water in a manner that removes the risk of crypto infection.

The city’s current method — adding chlorine dioxide — won’t cut it. The city is proposing instead to bombard its water with ultraviolet light, which, in effect, disables crypto. The estimated cost: $2.5 million.

Here’s the dilemma: The city has tested its water for crypto twice a month since April 2010, and found no evidence of the parasite.

No matter, says the EPA.

Portland, meanwhile, is in the same situation as Baker City. Portland, though, is seeking a waiver from the EPA rule.

Baker City Mayor Dennis Dorrah and Councilor Roger Coles suggested this week that the city, rather than spend $110,000 on preliminary work for a UV system, wait to see how Portland fares.

It’s a tempting idea.

But the Council was wise to vote 4-2, with Dorrah and Coles opposed, to proceed with the work.

As silly as the EPA mandate seems, we don’t want Baker City to incur legal costs or federal fines, and still end up having to install the UV treatment system.