Water Bureau’s May 23 Boil-Water Advisory Called Into Question by Citizen Group

OP Ed By Katherin Kirkpatrick


A group of Mt. Tabor residents submitted their tap water for independent testing during the May 23, 2014, boil-water advisory, and all samples (five in total) tested negative for total coliform and E coli bacteria.

The Southeast Examiner has received copies of the reports confirming the negative results.

The residents, some of whom identify themselves as being at higher risk of waterborne illness due to age and health status, became concerned when the Portland Water Bureau informed them via robocall on May 23 that they may have been drinking contaminated water for several days.

As neighbors of the controversy embroiled Mt. Tabor open reservoirs, the group expressed skepticism of what they referred to as the Portland Water Bureau’s “habit” of issuing boil-water advisories during holidays and weekends.

The current advisory came on a Friday afternoon and the last one occurred Saturday, July 21 ,2012.

As one resident put it, “our neighborhood has a long history of being given conflicting information about our reservoir.

With their 30-hour testing window, weekend boil-water alerts seem almost tailor-made to prevent private citizens from independently verifying whether our water is actually contaminated as the City claims. This just raised too many red flags for us.”

The group spent hours trying to locate an independent laboratory capable of testing household water over the holiday.  Arrangements were eventually made with a facility in the West suburbs.

One homeowner drove for hours against holiday traffic to retrieve pre-treated vials, sterile gloves and alcohol swabs.  The group then scrambled to collect five separate household samples according to the lab’s specifications. Finally, the samples were driven back across town to an after-hours drop box.

Meanwhile, many group members continued to boil their water per Bureau instructions, as the test’s incubation period meant that final results would not be available until well after the advisory ended.

According to one resident, “it was the only way we could independently test the City’s claim that the reservoir was sending us contaminated water.  At least in the end we found out what really was, or in this case wasn’t, in our water.”

A representative from the laboratory in question confirmed that the facility performs total coliform and E coli testing for local municipalities; though not for the City of Portland, which performs its own testing.

The incident did little to assuage the residents’ doubts about the Portland Water Bureau’s handling of the matter.

Said one resident, “If the City put reservoir politics before the truth, that’s not acceptable.”



Water Bureau’s May 23 Boil-Water Advisory Called Into Question by Citizen Group

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