Health & Education

Grand Ronde water system declared 'back to normal'

01.29.2015 Dean Rhodes Health & Wellness, Public Safety

After more than two months of testing and cleaning its water delivery system, the Grand Ronde Community Water Association declared its system back to normal on Friday, Jan. 16.

Water Association Manager Karl Ekstrom said that the PVC piping in the distribution system was creating positive coliform samples due to the presence of bio-film, which is any group of microorganisms in which cells stick to each other on a surface, such as the inside of a pipe.

“We cleaned our tanks, then added chlorine to the water and flushed the chlorine throughout the system,” Ekstrom said in the notice declaring the water system clean. “After we flushed the chlorine out of the system, we took five follow-up samples and they were all good.”

In a phone interview, Ekstrom said the 40-year-old water system will continue to see the buildup of bio-film if there is no chlorine in the system.

“It has happened two to three times in the last 20 years that I have been here,” Ekstrom said. “I think we will go to every year or every other year dousing the system with chlorine.”

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

Coliform bacteria are naturally present in the environment and are used as an indicator that other, potentially harmful bacteria may be present

A notice was sent out to Water Association customers that 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 advised its employees and members not to drink tap water and switch to drinking bottled water. It also taped off water fountains in Tribal buildings and made sure that Tribal residents received a copy of the notice. Bottled water was supplied to those who might be more vulnerable to infection, such as the young, elderly and those who were known to have compromised immune systems.

Interim General Manager Rick George said the Tribe is working to better prepare in how it responds to and addresses water supply contamination warnings and occasional actual emergencies.

“Because the water supply is managed and provided by the association – an entity entirely separate from the Tribal government – our action alternatives are limited,” he said.

George thanked Public Works Director John Mercier for working with Water Association staff and Tribal Facilities staff for their quick response in shutting off public drinking fountains. He also praised Tribal staff in Education, Housing and the Health & Wellness Clinic who “took immediate measures to protect Tribal children, the elderly and clinic patients and to provide bottled water to those Elders and families with health vulnerabilities.”