Portland Water Bureau: Boil water order lifted

PORTLAND, Ore. (KOIN 6) — The boil water order issued Friday for all customers of the Portland Water Bureau was lifted Saturday after test results showed the presence of bacteria was no longer an issue.

Water samples taken at three locations between May 20-23 showed the presence of total coliform and E. coli in drinking water samples.

But officials said Saturday the latest test results indicated the bacteria is not a concern and it is safe to use the tap water for all uses.

Users should flush all taps for about 2 minutes, or until the water runs cold, before consuming it, PWB said. That will flush any potentially contaminated water out of the system.

It is suggested that water dispensers and ice makers in refrigerators should also be flushed and cleaned.

Water softeners may also need to go through a regeneration cycle, and filter cartridges on household water treatment units should be changed.

The samples that tested positive were taken from outlets of Mt. Tabor Reservoirs 1 and 5, and at the water sampling station at SE 2nd Avenue and Salmon Street.

Portland Water Bureau administrator David Shaff, May 23, 2014 (KOIN 6 News)
Portland Water Bureau administrator David Shaff, May 23, 2014 (KOIN 6 News)

Both reservoirs are now offline and the sampling station system has been flushed, officials said. The investigation into the cause of the contamination continues, they said.

PWB administrator David Shaff said this — the third boil order to impact the city since 2009 — is the largest the bureau ever issued. Shaff said the PWB will drain the reservoirs to find the cause of the bacteria for the source of the contamination.

On Friday, microbiologist Scott Fernandez told KOIN 6 News he was “absolutely not” boiling his water.

Fernandez, who is also a former Portland Utility Review board member, said people shouldn’t worry.

“It’s up to them” if people want to boil their water, he said.

Emergency room doctors agree with the low threat risk of Portland’s E. coli scare.

A woman leaves the Safeway at SW 10th and Jefferson in Portland with a basket full of bottled water. All Portland Water Bureau customers are under a boil water order, May 23, 2014 (KOIN 6 News)
A woman leaves the Safeway at SW 10th and Jefferson in Portland with a basket full of bottled water. All Portland Water Bureau customers are under a boil water order, May 23, 2014 (KOIN 6 News)

“The chance of getting sick is low,” said Dr. John Heiser of Providence St. Vincent’s . “But you should know the symptoms.”

Those symptoms include diarrhea, vomiting, nausea and abdominal cramps.

The boil water order forced people, businesses and event organizers to scramble and change plans immediately. Some businesses, like Stumptown Coffee and Deschutes Brewery, closed Friday after the order. Others, like Tennessee Red’s, opted to stay open and work with the inconvenience.

Businesses affected

More than 670,000 customers and businesses were impacted by the boil water advisory.

“It’s very disruptive, it takes a lot of extra steps in order to make up for not having water you can just pull from the faucet,”  said Laura Emberly of Kenny and Zukes Deli. The restaurant had to throw out a considerable amount of food Friday.

“I don’t know what damage claims businesses would be submitting,” said Shaff.

“If they weren’t able to do business then they could submit a claim to risk, but I don’t know if the city will  accept it or not.”

How do they know it’s gone?

While the Water Bureau is in the process of draining two of three Mount Tabor reservoirs, water samples from 20 sites showed no signs of bacteria.

Shaff said he didn’t know exactly how the bacteria is no longer in the reservoirs.

“The whole reason behind the testing mechanism is to tell you if you have a widespread contamination,” he said. Still, false positives turn up about six times a year.

KOIN 6 News will continue to follow this story.

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