Battling bacteria

Our City
A.F. Mayor Marc Beitia

As I write this with my first cup of coffee at 5:30 Saturday morning the problem is not solved. During my first superintendents’ meeting as mayor a year ago July I told the City of American Falls department heads and superintendents that I always expected to be the dumbest person in the room when speaking of matters within their realms of expertise. I found myself exactly there last Thursday when Chad and Steve from DePatco came to me for answers or more aptly solutions to the Total Coliform Bacterial (TCB) issues that have existed in the newly installed waterlines since the rain event we had on August 28. That little problem has all but brought construction to a screeching halt. What? Logic and the law dictate you don’t connect a newly installed waterline that is contaminated with TCB to current services that have clean water in them. Typical treatment for TCBs is flushing the waterlines through fire hydrants. As of last Thursday over five million gallons had been flushed in an effort to be rid of the little buggers.

Thankful for my science background and education I knew what coliform bacteria were so I didn’t feel complete ignorant. That same background led me to learn a bit more than I knew. According to the Idaho Department of Environmental Quality (DEQ) and the Washington State Health Department, “Coliform bacteria are organisms that are present in the environment. Coliform bacteria will not likely cause illness. However, their presence in drinking water indicates that disease-causing organisms (pathogens) could be in the water system. There are three different groups of coliform bacteria; each has a different level of risk. Total coliform, fecal coliform, and E. coli are all indicators of drinking water quality. The total coliform group is a large collection of different kinds of bacteria. Fecal coliforms are types of total coliform that mostly exist in feces. E. coli is a sub-group of fecal coliform. When a water sample is sent to a lab, it is tested for total coliform. If total coliform is present, the sample will also be tested for either fecal coliform or E. coli.”

Fortunately at least health and safety wise, our problem is Total Coliform. According to the same sources, “Total coliform bacteria are commonly found in the environment (e.g., soil or vegetation) and are generally harmless. If only total coliform bacteria are detected in drinking water, the source is probably environmental. Fecal contamination is not likely. However, if environmental contamination can enter the system, there may also be a way for pathogens to enter the system. Therefore, it is important to find the source and resolve the problem.”

Unfortunately we have not been able to isolate the source. We suspect dirt or plant debris (roots) somehow got into the new line during our little rain event. Can you imagine what it must have been like to try and clean up drinking water sources after hurricane Katrina or Sandy?

The benefit of working with truly professional people is that egos don’t get in the way and they work together to solve problems. After the construction meeting, Water and Wastewater Superintendent Pete Cortez, Construction Manager Chad Rushton and I met to discuss a plan. Among us we came up with a sampling protocol that should lead us to the source. We will have the results of the tests later this morning and I will rejoin you after.

Sunday, Same Bat Time, Same Bat Station, different cup of coffee. Of the seven tests taken, two came back positive. The testing matrix was set up to take samples around the perimeter of the project and through it. Also included in the tests were colony counts that determine the number of bacteria in the positive sample. The two samples that came back positive were on Harrison, a line that passed in July; and at city hall, where there is a tie into an existing line. The higher concentration of TCB was on Harrison. More flushing was done at Oregon Trail and Harrison to try and clean the rest of the little pests out of the system and more testing was done within the project to confirm the absence of TCB so that business services could be connected on Monday if the results come back negative today around noon. It is a 24 hour test.

Yesterday, besides taking water samples, part of the DePatco crew was installing storm drain and manholes on Roosevelt while Chad and three others dug out and repaired the sewer service for the Little Theatre. This project that took the four men, two large pieces of equipment and the installation of a retaining device in a 15 foot hole over five hours to complete. Talking to Seth Lusk, Lusk Plumbing, the excavation alone would have cost over $4,500. As a community service DePatco did it for no charge to either the city or the Little Theatre. Even though they do not live here it was a damn neighborly thing for the four guys to do. My heartfelt thanks to Chad and the DePatco team for making American Falls a better place to live. If you see them, you may consider thanking them personally.

Fort Hall and the 100 block of Idaho will be open this week. We plan to allow diagonal parking for business access on the 200 block of Idaho as soon as the water connects are completed to the businesses. Sidewalks will follow shortly and the city crew will begin the installation of the landscape. I have some awesome news for the Senior Center and other downtown businesses, but it will have to wait…

Until next week…



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