Health & Education

Bacteria detected in local water supply

11.13.2014 Ron Karten Health & Wellness

Grand Ronde residents received a scare just before Halloween, and it didn't come from children dressed as ghosts and goblins.

The Grand Ronde Community Water Association, which has more than 950 service connections in the area, alerted its customers that coliform bacteria had been detected in two of the five water samples taken in October. The drinking water standard is that no more than one sample per month may indicate the existence of coliform bacteria.

A notice sent to Water Association customers in late October characterized the situation as a non-emergency and said that users did not need to boil water. However, it added, "If you have specific health concerns, consult your doctor. People with severely compromised immune systems, infants and some elderly may be at increased risk."

The Confederated Tribes of Grand Ronde reacted to the notice through the Tribe's General Manager's Office, which advised as a precaution that people not drink tap water and switch to drinking bottled water until advised otherwise.

Bottled water was distributed to Adult Foster Care units and the Tribal pre-school. Maintenance staff taped off water fountains in Tribal buildings to ensure employees did not drink tap water.

A copy of the letter was placed on the Tribe's Facebook page and warnings were added to the Tribe's website and the Reader Board on Grand Ronde Road.

Grand Ronde Tribal Housing Authority staff copied the warning letter and posted it on each housing unit to ensure residents were notified and the Tribe's Health Care Incident Management Team met on Friday, Oct. 31, to discuss any additional Tribal response.

Manager Karl Ekstrom said the Water Association had 30 days from the date of the second confirmed sample indicating coliform bacteria to notify customers, which would have been around Nov. 10. However, he said, clients were notified in a letter dated Oct. 29.

"During multiple daily visual inspections of the spring box, I believe foreign matter entered the spring box opening," Ekstrom said in the letter to clients. "Adjustment of a downstream valve was taking place. This is why the spring box was being inspected. Valve adjustments have been completed so this should remedy the problem."

The spring box is located six miles south of Highway 18, he added during a later phone interview.

The Water Association responded to the coliform bacteria detection by beginning its annual tank cleaning schedule earlier than usual and by flushing the system with chlorine. The Water Association also was working with the state Health Division on proper procedures for cleaning out the water system.

Coliform bacteria is naturally present in the environment, the warning letter stated, and are used as an indicator that other, more harmful bacteria may be present, such as fecal coliform or E. coli.

"We did not find any of these bacteria in our subsequent testing," the letter states. "If we had, we would have notified you immediately."

Ekstrom said that water samples taken during the first week of November came back clean and that, as of Wednesday, Nov. 12, it still had one more tank to clean and additional samples to take before he could declare the water supply bacteria-free. The Water Association received about a dozen calls regarding the notice, he added.

 The Tribe's Health Care Incident Management Team identified several protocols to follow for future drinking water incidents, such as creating a flier with information on what to do and compiling a "high risk" list of Tribal members who should be contacted first if extreme measures, such as boiling water, need to be taken.

"The team will develop standardized procedures to assist Tribal members and the community to respond to a non-emergency event like this most recent bacteria detection and a separate set of procedures to respond to a drinking water emergency where detection of E. coli or another contaminant presents an immediate health threat to drinking water consumers," said Interim General Manager Rick George.