Officials representing the state, the county and the local water district were scheduled to meet yesterday, Tuesday, Oct. 1, to discuss what to do in the wake of two boil water notices within three months for American Valley Community Services District water users in west Quincy.
While the first such instance, back in early June, was traced to vandalism, no cause was found for the notice that was in effect from Sept. 20 through Sept. 26, though it’s believed to be occurring somewhere in the distribution system, not in a source. “It’s still a mystery,” Jim Doohan, the water district’s general manager said last week. “The problem has not been found.”
Steve Watson, an engineer with the drinking water division of the State Water Resources Control Board, said “We’ll be brainstorming to see what’s at the root cause,” he said. “There are so many variables.”
Both boil water notices were due to the detection of E. coli. Watson explained that the presence of E. coli doesn’t mean water users will become ill, but it does mean there’s a pathway for dangerous pathogens to enter the water supply. In both instances the system was treated with chlorine, the lines flushed, and the boil notice lifted once two clean samples were taken on subsequent days.
It’s not gone unnoticed that both events occurred after rainstorms. Is there a connection?
Doohan said it’s possible, but until the source of the latest contamination is determined, a link is unknown.
Environmental Health Director Jerry Sipe also said that it’s difficult to determine until more is known. But he said that two contaminations in three months warrants more attention than normal testing.
Sipe said that the state could require more frequent sampling of the water, or, perhaps require that it be treated until the contamination source is identified.
When asked how frequently the water is tested normally, Doohan said once a month. The district has five sampling sites, and water is taken there as well as upstream and downstream from the location.
However not all five sites are sampled each month. For example, in month one, sites 1 and 2 are sampled; in month two, sites 3 and 4 are sampled; and in month 3, sites 5 and 1 are sampled. That means a couple of months can pass between site testing.
Again, it leads to more questions. How long could residents be drinking the water before it is found to be contaminated?
When water is tested, it takes 24 hours to get the initial results for total coliform. Then another 24 hours to narrow down whether E. coli or another pathogen is present. But what if the water hasn’t been tested for a month or longer?
Watson, fro, the state board, said that it’s the nature of public water systems that there is a delay in notification, but that in the wake of a boil water notice the services district will be required to sample twice a week for three weeks.
He said that even though the services district is only required to test once a month when no issues have been detected, in all likelihood testing is much more frequent because it is required anytime work is done to the system.
By comparison, the city of Redding is required to take 120 samples per month.Watson added that until recently, the district has had a clean history without violations and that the district has good sources of water.
It’s his office’s role to assist the district in correcting whatever the issue might be. “We’re trying to come along the district and be supportive,” he said. “As far as public health goes, we’re on the same team.”
In addition to notifying customers of the boil notice requirement during this contamination, the district offered free bottled water to its customers.
In addition to the health threat that the presence of E. coli presents, it can be costly to local businesses. Sipe said that his office worked with local restaurants, schools and the hospital to assist them through the boil notification process, which includes disposing of all food items that have been tainted by water. At Safeway for example, that includes all of the produce that has been misted. For a business such as Subway, that means taking its soda machine out of service. Even such items as ice made in an ice machine must be discarded.
This story will be updated on plumasnews.com as more information becomes available.
Total coliforms, fecal coliforms, and E. coli
The following information is provided by the Centers for Disease Control:
What are coliforms?
Coliforms are a group of bacteria found in plant material, water and soil. Coliforms are also present in the digestive tracts and feces of humans and animals. Most of the time, these bacteria are not harmful.
Why does a water system test for coliforms?
Water systems test for indicators such as total coliforms, fecal coliforms, or E. coli to monitor water quality. If the water system has a positive test for one of these indicators, it can mean recent contamination with soil or human feces.
What does a positive coliform test result mean?
A positive coliform test means possible contamination and a risk of waterborne disease. A positive test for total coliforms always requires more tests for fecal coliforms or E. coli. A confirmed positive test for fecal coliforms or E. coli means you need to take action as advised by your water system.
Will coliform bacteria make me sick?
Most coliform bacteria are a normal part of the environment. They do not cause disease, but do indicate the water might be contaminated by soil or feces. Some rare types of coliforms, such as E. coli O157:H7, can cause serious illness. Although most E. coli O157:H7 outbreaks are from eating raw or undercooked food, cases from contaminated drinking water can occur, but are rare.