City mulls water-treatment options

By Terri Harber August 14, 2013 09:03 am

Jayson Jacoby/Baker City Herald The valley of Elk Creek, above the point where Baker City usually diverts water from the creek into its water pipeline, consists of steep, forested slopes that is good habitat for elk and deer. A water sample taken from Elk Creek Aug. 4 contained the highest amount of cryptosporidium of any sample the city has tested.
Jayson Jacoby/Baker City Herald The valley of Elk Creek, above the point where Baker City usually diverts water from the creek into its water pipeline, consists of steep, forested slopes that is good habitat for elk and deer. A water sample taken from Elk Creek Aug. 4 contained the highest amount of cryptosporidium of any sample the city has tested.

By Terri Harber

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Ensuring the safety of Baker City’s municipal water supply until a permanent treatment facility is completed — and whether the city should continue planning an ultraviolet light facility — was discussed by Baker City councilors on Tuesday.

Councilor Kim Mosier was absent.

Resident Jim Thomas said he wants accountability from the councilors on all issues — not just this current crypto crisis.

“You need to buckle down and do your jobs,” he said to them at the beginning of the meeting.

“After waiting three years and eight months maybe you need to check into it a little harder if you don’t trust your staff,” he said.

Thomas’ remark was made in response to comments made by Councilor Roger Coles during a special City Council meeting Thursday.

Coles said at the time, “I won’t rubber stamp something because staff puts it across my desk.”

Bryan Black, vice president of HDR Inc., a Portland engineering firm, went over the city’s options.

• Option 1: Protect water supply with temporary treatment to allow re-decision process with state input followed by design — lowest risk and highest cost

• Option 2: Protect it with temporary treatment, either filter or UV system; accelerate permanent treatment; design both UV and filter options until decision is made — lowest risk and medium-high cost

• Option 3: No temporary treatment (unprotected); accelerate permanent treatment; design both UV and filter options until decision is made — high risk and medium cost

• Option 4: No temporary treatment (unprotected); delay design for permanent treatment until decision is made — highest risk and lowest cost. Black described this option as “not desirable” and he doesn’t recommend it.

 Cost for a temporary membrane filter trailer would be an estimated $350,000 to $470,000 for three months of use. A temporary UV light system would cost $400,000 to $540,000.

The city needs to complete two consecutive tests that have zero oocysts both in the watershed at places where water is diverted from a stream into the city’s pipeline, and at three locations in town, before the water boiling order could be lifted, said Michelle Owen, public works director.

Once the boil order is removed the city would have to test the water twice a week for crypto. 

If there are two tests in a row that indicate the presence of crypto then the boil order would be reinstated, she said.

Water from Elk Creek collected on Aug. 4 contained 913 oocysts. The city hasn’t used water from Elk Creek since Aug. 7, the day city officials received test results.

The creek isn’t being tested now, Owen said.

Bill Goss of the Oregon Health Authority Drinking Water Services program said during Thursday’s meeting that once the boil order is lifted the state will consider whether to change how the city should protect its water supply against crypto and other waterborne parasites.

Goss said it could take a couple of months for the state to come to a decision — and the clock would start only after the city no longer needed to adhere to the boil order. 

He told city officials Tuesday, however, that it might not take quite that long after all.

Mayor Richard Langrell wondered why the city couldn’t end the boil order if water samples show no more than two oocysts, given that three water samples tested in 2010 and 2011 contained either one or two oocysts, and no boil order or other precautions were required then.

It’s because there weren’t any confirmed cases of crypto at those times.

“Because of the outbreak they’re going to be a little less flexible,” Owen said.

Some councilors want to see how much it would cost to go on with the short-term boil order and continue with the water trucks and use of bottled water.

Councilors also are concerned state officials will decide that a UV system is no longer sufficient to safeguard the water supply. 

Councilor Dennis Dorrah thought it might be possible to get by for the rest of the season with some adjustments, such as use restrictions.

The city is also looking at using wells which are not part of the city’s water system now, but “that can’t get us to the four-million-gallon level,” Owen said. There are sites with water but the quality is “not as good.”

“We need another well,” Dorrah said.

The one well the city uses now supplies water that was pumped into the well from surface sources in the watershed. A water sample taken from that well on July 31 contained no oocysts.

Another possible option is the well at the city-owned Quail Ridge Golf Course, Coles said.  

That well would require modifications, however, including building a line that reaches Indiana Avenue. 

Pendleton uses an ultrafiltration membrane system, Coles said. Owen offered to try to get a tour arranged of that plant.

Canby uses UV treatment. Owen and Dorrah have visited that location. 

Coles said he doesn’t like UV but realizes the council may have to make a decision about treatment based on “best value.”

Black also warned that the outbreak puts the city at risk of losing its filtration exemption.

Button pointed out that UV is considerably less expensive than a filtration plan.

The state can allow municipalities to use UV to help deal with waterborne parasites. 

It’s a decision based on Oregon’s interpretation of federal rules, Owen said.   

Smoking ban 

The councilors split their votes 3 to 3 on the third and final reading of the park smoking ban ordinance, which means it will not take effect, at least for now.

Dorrah, Coles and Councilor Barbara Johnson voted against the resolution.

Mosier, a staunch proponent of the ban, likely would have cast the deciding vote in favor but she was absent.

Resident Marv Sundean spoke against ordinance because it would exempt the golf course.

“It’s a double standard. A hypocrisy,” he said.  The ban itself is “misguided, misdirected. ... and won’t be enforced.”

Councilors Dorrah and Johnson said they agreed with Sundean’s take on the topic.

Councilor Clair Button said the ban was meant to help foster healthy behavior and provide healthy areas for families.

In other business, the councilors:

• Asked that the request for proposals to buy two vehicles for public works be sent out once again. Some of the councilors wanted different information.

• Dorrah wants research done by city staff about whether councilors could vote remotely by telephone or other devices. He said he isn’t in favor of it. Mosier participated in a council meeting this year — and voted — by Skype.

• Approved the bid for a DuraPatcher for $71,850.

• Amended the Transient Merchant Fees.

 

LATEST ON CITY’S CRYPTO SITUATION

• BOIL ORDER REMAINS IN EFFECT

• More water sample results due back Wednesday afternoon — results will be posted on city website

• Baker City Councilors ratify emergency declaration given to county. The governor would have to approve it, but the state hadn’t responded as of  Tuesday

• As of  Tuesday, number of confirmed cases now at 17; hundreds believed to have been infected