After hundreds got sick, Ore. city considers plant

BAKER CITY, Ore. (AP) — A treatment plant to guard against another outbreak of the diarrhea that affected as many as one in 10 residents of Baker City could be online in a year, the city manager says.

The town faces a 2016 deadline to act against the waterborne parasite cryptosporidium, but given the summer sickness, it should move quickly, City Manager Mike Kee said.

“We need to do everything we can,” Kee told the Baker City Herald (http://bit.ly/17AihrU). “Every week we’ve got to be doing something toward this.”

Kee said he hopes to have a proposal before the City Council later this month to advance a plant that would treat water with ultraviolet light. That’s the least expensive option the city has been considering — a 2009 estimate put the cost at $2.3 million.

A filtration plant might cost six times that. The city of nearly 10,000 people draws heavily from surface water diversions and is exempt from federal water-quality rules requiring filtration of surface supplies.

City leaders haven’t had a consensus.

Some have worried that the city might build an ultraviolet plant but later lose the exemption and have to build the more expensive plant anyway. Some say they’d rather have a filtration plant in any case because it would remain effective — and ultraviolent wouldn’t — in the event a major wildfire causes ash and dirt to get into the water supply.

Health officials still haven’t pinpointed the source of the cryptosporidium that started affecting people in late July. Usually, the parasite is spread by animal feces.

At first, suspicion focused on elk congregating near a mountain lake used for supplemental summer water. More recently, attention has turned to cattle grazing on federal allotments near streams that are the city’s primary sources.

After about three weeks and tests showing no cryptosporidium in the water, the city lifted a boil order for water users.

The outbreak took a toll on the local economy when a local pizza crust bakery company laid off a substantial part of its workforce because of a downturn in orders. The company said customers cited the outbreak.

Kee said the city will have to tap $1.7 million in its water utility fund that hadn’t been scheduled for spending in the current budget. Normally, he said, state law would forbid spending it, but he said an exception for community calamities should apply to Baker City’s circumstances.

He said the city has $230,000 already budgeted that could be used to build a foundation for the plant near the covered reservoirs on the southwest corner of the city.

Construction of the plant would take about six months, Kee said.

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Information from: Baker City Herald, http://www.bakercityherald.com/

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