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Burlington Water District affected by E. coli scare

Water service to 196 properties south of county line affected


by: MARK MILLER - The sign for Burlington along Highway 30, just south of the intersection with NW Cornelius Pass Road.A boil water advisory issued Friday, May 23, affected the Burlington Water District, as well as other customers of Portland’s water supply.

The Burlington Water District was the northernmost water provider included under the advisory, which the state ordered after three water samples taken by the Portland Water Bureau between May 21 and May 23 tested positive for bacteria, including E. coli.

The Burlington Water District serves 196 homes and businesses, according to Patricia Maenza, the agency's administrator. The unincorporated community of Burlington itself is about 6 miles south on Highway 30 from the Columbia County line.

“When we find bacteria in the water system, we take it very seriously,” said Portland City Commissioner Nick Fish, who oversees the Portland Water Bureau, at a Friday press conference.

Maenza echoed Fish, saying Tuesday, May 27, that the district's top priority is the health and safety of its customers.

"Our number one is to protect the people," Maenza said. "We have to take all precautions.”

The advisory was in effect for about 24 hours. It was lifted just after 11 a.m. Saturday.

Maenza said the district had to take water samples after the advisory was issued and get them tested. They turned up no additional evidence of contamination, she said.

Tim Hall, a spokesman for the Portland Water Bureau, said followup testing elsewhere was negative for bacteria as well. However, two reservoirs were drained as a precaution.

“When we get a sample that shows E. coli, we have to resample,” Hall said.

Accurately testing water can be tricky, Maenza said. It requires a pure sample in a sterile container, and "the very slightest" can affect the test.

“A lot of times, during the first sampling when something like that happens, it could be a tester that has dirty hands,” or even an errant raindrop making its way into the sample, Maenza explained, adding, “If you're not real careful when you take a test, things can happen like that.”

While the advisory was in effect, some 670,000 customers in the Portland metropolitan area were urged to boil their tap water before using it.

No water providers in Columbia County are wholesale customers of Portland water, and accordingly, they were not affected by the advisory.