A big bill, but worth it

By Baker City Herald Editorial Board November 13, 2013 09:40 am

The Baker City Council is being asked to spend a lot of money for something most of us will never see.

But the investment in a temporary ultraviolet (UV) light treatment plant for our drinking water is both wise and necessary.

What the Council can buy is reassurance.

By agreeing to spend an estimated $30,000 per month to disinfect drinking water with ultraviolet light, councilors can show residents that they are committed to avoiding a repeat of this summer’s cryptosporidium outbreak.

Councilors discussed that recommendation from the city staff Tuesday but took no action. We urge them to do so when they meet in early December.

Yes, the city expects to have a permanent UV treatment plant operating before the end of 2014.

And yes, more than 20 water samples tested since early August have been free of crypto.

But the risk of crypto contaminating our water is too high to justify doing nothing.

The city staff recommends the temporary UV plant in part because the crypto threat is not limited to the water that’s flowing into our pipes now from streams and springs in the mountain watershed.

For the past several years the city has also diverted about 200 million gallons of water each year from the watershed into a city-owned well.

In a process known as “aquifer storage and recovery,” the city then pumps that water back to the surface during summer, when the watershed sources are diminished and the demand for water reaches its yearly peak.

The city’s concern — and it’s a valid one — is that because it takes several days for water test results to arrive, water contaminated with crypto could be dumped into the well and by the time officials knew of the problem it would be too late to correct.

In that case the city couldn’t in good conscience use any water from the well. That could leave the city short of water when it needs it most.

The temporary UV treatment plant would pretty much eliminate the possibility that contaminated water will be stored in the well.

And of course the treatment plant would protect the mountain water that flows to our faucets daily.

It’s a major expense. But considering what the city stands to lose in a second crypto outbreak — potentially hundreds of people getting sick, businesses suffering, possibly losing important events such as the basketball tourneys and the Shrine Game — the money would be well spent.