Crypto caution

By Baker City Herald Editorial Board January 16, 2012 06:56 pm

We sympathize with Baker City councilors as they grapple with a pending $2.5 million tab to further cleanse the city’s drinking water, which is already admirably pure.

But we urge councilors to be judicious in expressing their concerns about the federal rule designed to protect people from cryptosporidium and other microscopic parasites that can make people sick and, in rare cases, kill them.

We’re not suggesting councilors muzzle themselves.

In fact we encourage them to interrogate government officials about the rules. We’re particularly interested in the possibility, as City Manager Mike Kee told councilors last week, that the current rules could change before the city’s October 2016 deadline to deal with crypto.

That said, councilors would do their constituents a disservice if, as Councilor Clair Button warned last week, the city incurs a fine or other penalty because it misses a key deadline.

We don’t think that’s likely. The city has plenty of time before it totally commits to buying equipment that will subject our drinking water to a disinfecting dose of ultraviolet light.

But federal agencies have on occasion displayed a certain capriciousness — a tendency that means caution is in order at City Hall.

It’s worth noting, too, that, however distasteful the estimated $2.5 million tab is, we won’t be wasting our money on that UV system.

There’s value in adding another layer of protection — especially for the very young or old and others with less than robust immune systems who are more vulnerable to crypto.

We’re fortunate that there’s never been a confirmed case of a person being infected with the parasite as a result of drinking city water.

And the amount of crypto detected in three water samples, two collected in 2010 and one in 2011, was so low that it probably posed little or no health risk.

Nonetheless, the nasty little bug has been in the water, and could be at any time.

Councilors decided last week to hold a work session during which they’ll continue the discussion about water treatment. Exact date and time will be announced.

The agenda should include a question that Councilor Beverly Calder posed: Should the city, instead of installing a UV system, choose to build a considerably more expensive filtration plant?

The disadvantage is cost — perhaps $15 million.

But the city would get more for the additional dollars. A filtration plant, unlike the UV light, could protect water against a host of other possible effects, including landslides or wildfires that foul streams with mud and ash.

Nor is it hard to imagine the feds deciding, not so many years in the future, that the city has to filter its water regardless.

The bottom line is that this is an appropriate time for city councilors to talk about what is, after all, the most indispensable service the city provides: water.

But a campaign to save public dollars would be pyrrhic indeed if the city ends up saddled with an expense it could easily have avoided.