City failed its citizens

By Baker City Herald Editorial Board August 09, 2013 10:04 am

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.

And although we had left messages with both city and state officials on Thursday morning, we didn’t get a return call until 11:30 a.m. Thursday, when City Manager Mike Kee called.

Kee did send an email to city councilors at 4:54 p.m. Wednesday that included the test results from Elk Creek.

We understand that city officials are busy.

It’s a crisis.

But surely city officials have no greater responsibility than that of keeping citizens informed, in a reasonably timely way, of vital developments in the crypto situation.

And it’s beyond dispute that the Elk Creek water sample test qualifies as vital.

We’re perplexed, too, as to why more than a week elapsed before the City Council had a public meeting.

We understand that the boil order instituted on July 31 remains in effect. So long as people are complying with it, or using bottled water or otherwise protecting against crypto, they ought to be safe regardless of the crypto level in any single water source.

The problem, though — and it’s a big one — is that until the Elk Creek sample was tested, all the water tests had shown either no crypto, or quite small numbers — three oocysts being the highest in any single sample.

State officials had speculated that a “flush” of crypto had entered the water, possibly in late June or early July, but the relatively clean test from samples taken July 31 suggested that the threat might have dissipated.

Yet the city learned on Wednesday that, just three days earlier, a high level of crypto was present in a water source that the city was feeding into its pipes then, and had been using for many weeks previous.

There’s no legitimate excuse for city officials failing to distribute that information as widely, and as quickly, as possible on Wednesday morning. The city didn’t come close on either measure.