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Home arrow News arrow Local News arrow Elk Creek water sample had much higher level of crypto

Elk Creek water sample had much higher level of crypto

A 10-liter water sample taken Sunday from Elk Creek, one of several sources Baker City taps from its watershed, contained 913 cryptosporidium oocysts, a much higher number than any previous sample test reported, Michelle Owen, the city's public works director, said Thursday.

 

Seven water samples collected on July 31— none of them directly from Elk Creek — contained from zero to three oocysts.

Owen said that as soon as city officials learned Wednesday morning about the test results from Elk Creek, workers shut off the diversion, blocking water from that creek from entering the city's distribution system.

The city had been using Elk Creek water, along with water from several other sources, for several weeks, Owen said. 

Owen said she is somewhat perplexed, then, because the July 31 water samples, all but one of which could have contained some Elk Creek water, since water from multiple sources mix in the pipelines before they reach the city's reservoir where chlorine is added, contained no more than three oocysts.

That suggests that a considerable amount of dilution occurs as water from a single source, such as Elk Creek, flows through miles of pipeline and is mixed with other sources, she said.

The vastly larger number of crypto oocysts in the Elk Creek water sample adds to the mystery about the source of the contamination that has sickened an estimated 300 to 400 people, according to Mark Bennett, a Baker County commissioner.

Owen said Jake Jones, the city's watershed manager, inspected the area around the Elk Creek diversion both on July 31 and again Wednesday morning, and neither time did he find any evidence that cattle had been in the area.

Cattle are a known carrier of crypto.

Elk can also spread the parasite through their feces, and Owen said a herd of about 50 elk is known to roam the upper part of the Elk Creek drainage, upstream from the site where the city diverts water from the creek into its pipeline. 

City and state officials have said that the most plausible theory of a source is feces from a herd of mountain goats that lives near Goodrich Reservoir, another source of city water.

A water sample taken at Goodrich Reservoir on July 31 contained two crypto oocysts.

A sample taken from the Goodrich water pipeline on Sunday contained no oocysts, Owen said.

The city has not brought any Goodrich water into the distribution system since July 31.

Taking Elk Creek offline adds to the city's concerns about having a sufficient water supply, Owen said.

Elk Creek is not a major source of water in late summer because its flow diminishes considerably by now.

Results from other water samples taken Sunday include: Marble Springs, the city's well, Salmon Creek, all 0 oocysts; Little Mill Creek, one oocyst; and Mill Creek, two oocysts.

Most of the water drawn from the city's well actually originated as surface water from streams in the mountains.

The city received a license from the state several years ago allowing it to pump as much as 200 million gallons of surface water each year into the well, between Nov. 1 and June 15, and then pump the water back to the surface during summer, when demand increases and streamflows diminish. 

 
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