PWB: SW Portland water still OK to drink

PORTLAND, Ore. (KOIN) — Repeated tests show contamination in Portland’s tank at SW Nevada Court and 27th Avenue.

Multiple samples taken from that tank find total coliforms in the water. And new test results Thursday provide the seventh positive in a row for total coliforms — and show the problem is not fixed yet.

“Total coliforms are a group of closely related bacteria that are — with few exceptions — not harmful to humans,” according to the EPA’s Total Coliforms Rule. “…Total coliforms are used to determine the vulnerability of a system to fecal contamination.”

As it turns out, the presence of total coliforms could indicate the presence of E. coli.

Portland Water Bureau Director David Shaff admits the reoccurring, high levels of total coliforms in this Southwest Portland tank are perplexing.

“It’s frustrating because this is unusual,” Shaff said on camera Thursday.

KOIN 6 News also tried to talk to Portland City Commissioner Nick Fish, who oversees the water bureau, about the reoccurring and high levels of total coliform in Southwest Portland. He referred KOIN back to Shaff.

The SW Nevada Court and 27th Avenue water main is being flushed again Thursday — as it has been for a week now. This tank is one of the places along the line where they have found the bacteria.

But, after several positive tests, only wholesale water customers have been told about the contamination. Not even the closest residential neighbors, such as Kelly Pederson, knew.

Pederson said she’d like to know as a precaution — “so that we could use alternative types of water, rather than out of the faucet, until they identified what the causes are,” she said.

Small levels of the bacteria aren’t uncommon in a city’s drinking supply. However, total coliform is testing both unusually high and being found more frequently in this Southwest Portland water main.

The total coliform levels are so high that the district of Lake Grove and the city of Tigard have stopped pumping the Portland water into their systems. And remember, total coliforms are an indicator for E. coli.

The EPA considers E. coli an “emerging cause of foodborne and waterborne illness,” since the bacteria produces a powerful toxin that can cause severe illness. The presence of E. coli in municipal water is usually accompanied by boil-water advisory from the state Department of Health.

Just this past Wednesday, Washington’s Department of Health lifted a boil water advisory for south King County that had been on since Saturday. According to the Associated Press, about 5,000 people in parts of Des Moines and Normandy Park were affected after potentially harmful E. coli bacteria was detected in a routine water quality monitoring test.

The total coliform levels are so high — the district of Lake Grove and the city of Tigard stopped pumping the portland water into their systems.

Even with the repeated problem levels of bacteria showing up, the Portland Water Bureau told KOIN 6 News the water coming from 27th and Nevada Court is still safe to drink for now.

If they get a positive test for E. coli, they said they will issue a boil water notice to water customers right away.

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