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Tests at pumping station were free of pathogens

Residents in Tigard likely didn’t notice a difference in the water they’ve been drinking for the past month, but it hasn’t been coming from its usual source.

In September, the city stopped using water from the Portland Water Bureau after the agency detected total coliforms in its water supply at a Portland pumping station at Southwest 27th Avenue and Nevada Court, which provides water to Tigard.

Now, after a month of testing, the city has switched back.

Total coliforms are commonly found in the natural world and aren’t dangerous, but can indicate a problem with the water system, or more harmful pathogens, such as E. Coli.

Dennis Koellermeier, the city’s public works director, said the city made the switch to avoid a potential boil water notice.

“It was an indicator for a potentially worse situation,” Koellermeier said. “If anywhere in this month of testing they had gotten one positive hit for E. Coli, we would be on a boil water notice, and that’s something we don’t want to get into.”

The city purchases about 90 percent of its water from Portland, and has had two boil water notices in the past two years. The most recent happened the day before Thanksgiving in 2012.

Tigard wasn’t alone in making a switch. The Lake Grove Water District also took precautionary steps and switched to a different water provider while Portland investigated the possible contamination.

Tigard instead drew water from its wells and from Lake Oswego.

The city went back to using Portland water on Oct. 11, after a month of testing turned up negative.

The Tigard Water Service Area provides water to two-thirds of the city, as well as Bull Mountain, Durham and King City.

Tigard residents east of Highway 217 receive their water from the Tualatin Valley Water District, which was not in the affected area.

Sherwood and Tualatin water also did not come from the potentially contaminated area.

Finding total coliforms in the water isn’t unusual for this time of year, said Tim Hall, a spokesman for the Portland Water Bureau.

“Total coliforms occur naturally in our environment. When they show up in our water, they are a good indicator to check our system for possible contamination or operational issues,” he wrote on the bureau’s website after the contamination was discovered.

Even so, Koellermeier said, it’s not something water providers want to see.

“We are at the mercy of Portland on this issue,” he said. “As long as they operate their system the way that they do, we are susceptible to these kinds of issues. This time of year, demands (for water) are down to a point that we could work off wells and up our take from Lake Oswego. If this had happened in the peak of summer (when people use more water), we might not have been able to do that.”

The city plans to stop receiving its water from Portland in 2016, when Tigard begins pumping its own water through its partnership with Lake Oswego.

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