E. coli found in reservoir, Portland issues largest boil water alert ever


by Cornelius Swart, KGW.com Staff


Posted on May 23, 2014 at 5:55 PM

Updated Saturday, May 24 at 6:12 AM

PORTLAND -- The Portland Water Bureau issued a 'boil water alert' Friday morning for the entire water district after the city detected E. coli in water samples.

More: Map to the affected areas

At a press conference at noon Friday, Water Bureau Director David Shaff said this was the largest boil water alert in the city's history, impacting some 670,000 water users.

The source of the contamination was Mount Tabor reservoirs 1 and 5. The alert includes the city of Portland, but also the cities of Tigard, King City, parts of Gresham and other districts (see below for full list.)

"Until further notice, all Portland Water Bureau customers and those in the affected areas should boil all tap water used for drinking, food preparation, tooth brushing and ice for at least one minute. Ice or any beverages prepared with un-boiled tap water on or after May 20 should be discarded," the alert reads.

More: City scrambles after Boil Water Alert

"In three separate incidents from May 20 to May 23, repeat water samples confirmed the presence of total coliform and E. coli in routine drinking water samples," Shaff said. 

Tri-County Health Officer Dr. Paul Lewis said the E. coli came from animal fecal matter. The most likely symptom from people drinking contaminated water would be diarrhea. Lewis said that he did not believe many people would be impacted.

E. coli fact sheet

Officials believed that the issue would be cleared up in 24 hours.

"I have every expectation that we will issue an 'all clear' tomorrow," Shaff said in a the press conference.

[Click on the map above to enlarge image]

The city tests water in the system about 240 times a month.  In addition to the Mount Tabor Reservoirs, contaminated water was found at the Southeast 2nd Avenue and Salmon Street water sampling station, according to the city.

Reservoir 5 was the center of controversy in April when the city declared it would flush 38 million gallons of water into the sewers after a teenager allegedly urinated in the water.

More: City to flush $175K in water after teen urinates

The city sampled the water on Tuesday. The sample tested positive for E. coli the following day. Continued tests triggered a mandatory alert, officials said.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention advise that people should boil tap water even if it is filtered. Most kitchen and other household water filters typically do not remove bacteria or viruses.

Medical experts told KGW on Friday that E. coli can take up to two days to incubate in someone, and so symptons may not show up immediately.

Contamination can occur when there is a loss of water pressure, a pipe break, or conditions that expose drinking water to outside elements, the city said.

An investigation into the problem was under way.

[Above: The city of Portland used its new Water Bureau Emergency Coordination Center for the first time Friday]

For more information, water users can call the Portland Water Bureau customer service at 503-823-7770.

More: Portland doesn't flush reservoir water after all

The water bureau alerted customers in the entire city of Portland and these areas:

  • Burlington Water District
  • City of Gresham (North of I-84)
  • Lake Grove Water District
  • Lorna Portland Water
  • Palatine Hill Water District
  • Rockwood Water District
  • Tigard Water Service Area (including Durham, King City and Bull Mountain)
  • Valley View Water District
  • West Slope Water District 

The City of Portland Water Bureau provided these answers to common questions:

What's going on?

A boil water notice means that water from the tap should not be consumed in any form unless it has been brought to a rolling boil for a full minute. This notice is required by the State and Federal government when water quality standards are suspected of being compromised.

What do I do?

All water used for drinking, brushing teeth, gargling, food preparation, rinsing dishes and ice making should be boiled at a full rolling boil for at least 1 minute. Ice or any beverages prepared with un-boiled tap water should be discarded.

Activities that require boiled water:

Washing food served without cooking or baking; adding water to food without cooking/baking; ice making; cleaning food contact surfaces.

Activities that do not require boiled water:

Showering (do not allow water in mouth); baths; laundering, general cleaning, pet watering or bathing, and watering plants.

How will I know when I can stop boiling water?

The boil water notice is in effect until further notification from the Water Bureau.

Will my in-home filtration system or hot water tap work as a substitute?

Filtration systems vary considerably. You should boil the water. A hot water on-demand tap will not kill the bacteria.

I own a restaurant, what do I do?

Restaurants need to observe the boil water order.

Water served to customers must be boiled for at least one minute.

This includes water used for ice making, table water, food preparation, and rinsing dishes.

Tap water combined with dish soap can be used to clean dishes, utensils and cooking ware. Boiled water must be used to rinse and clean kitchen and dining room surfaces.

Call the Multnomah County Health Department (503) 988-3663, extension 24662 for restaurant information. More information will also be available during regular business hours.

The Portland Water Bureau was in the national spotlight last month when it nearly decided to dump millions of gallons of water in response to one man urinating in a Mt. Tabor reservoir.