Portlanders: Come to Bend, the water's fine

How does Bend make sure drinking water safe?

Bend drinking water safety

BEND, Ore. - The E. coli scare in Portland comes on a long holiday weekend. It's bad news for Portland, but possibly good news for Bend. Portlanders could be leaving the big city for some of Bend's fresh air -- and clean water.

Visit Bend even tweeted about it, saying, #InPortland: Don't waste time boiling water. Come to #BendOregon with fresh mountain water, sun and great beer instead. #SaveAPortlander."

Doug LaPlaca, president/CEO of Visit Bend, said Friday the office was having a bit of fun with the tweet and that they've received multiple responses from people headed this way.

All jokes aside, though, a boil-water order is a serious matter -- and it has happened in Bend before, too.

"It's only happened once," Steven Praznak, city water quality manager, said Friday.

That's one time since he started working for the city of Bend in 1996.

"There was a main (water) line break," Praznak said.

Construction caused the break in 2006, on what was then called the Juniper Utilities water system. Soil and sediment made its way into the water line.

"So we started sampling an awful lot," Praznak said.

Tests came up positive for E. coli in the water.

"We issued a boil water notice," Praznak said.

The actions taken in Bend then and Portland now are based on statewide regulations on testing drinking water.

"The state of Oregon has set that schedule up," Praznak said.

The city of Bend is required to take samples at least 70 times per month.

They test on a regular basis for total coliform and E. coli. These dangerous bacteria come from warm-blooded mammals like humans, deer, etc.

"So that means there are fecal contaminants," Praznak said.
Those contaminants, if you drink them, can make humans and pets very sick. Symptoms include diarrhea, cramps, nausea headaches and more. It can be especially dangerous for members of the community that are immunocompromised.

State rules say the fecal coliform count must be equal or less than 20 organisms per 100 milliliter.

"It is very complex," Praznak said.

These are microscopic organisms that you can't see, taste or smell. In the past six months, Bend has collected 103 samples. Only one of those tested positive for too much E. coli.

"Yes, it can get into the water," Praznak said.

If it does, the city of Bend would follow similar orders are Portland. Bend would notify the state within 24 hours of the test result, then possibly issue a boil water order as well.

The one difference between Bend and Portland is that Bend uses two different sources for drinking water, both surface water from Bridge Creek, a tributary of Tumalo Creek, and groundwater pumped from an underground aquifer. (That's been a key part of the ongoing debate over Bend's water pipeline replacement.)

If one is contaminated, there is another to fall back on. Also, it is unusual for groundwater to be contaminated with E. coli.

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