Letter: Bridge Creek water puts safety at risk

December 18, 2013
Letter: Bridge Creek water puts safety at risk

By Nathan Boddie

Members of the Bend City Council continue to put our drinking-water safety at risk and could well endanger the health of Bend’s citizens in their pursuit of an unsustainable agenda driven by bad science.

As a physician who treats water-borne disease, I am concerned. The City Council continues to insist that surface water from Bridge Creek should contribute some of our drinking water supply, which exposes Bend’s water supply to contamination by microorganisms or a fire event in the Bridge Creek watershed.

There is much controversy surrounding the surface water project. It remains economically unsustainable and will hurt growth and prosperity. We do not require surface water at all to provide for our existing water needs or even to supply projected future growth. The project would hurt fisheries and recreation in Tumalo Creek; it will impact other water users downstream and generally degrade the environment in ways not fully understood. The project is opposed across the political spectrum by citizens, current and former elected officials, business leaders and environmentalists alike. However, not enough concern has been raised regarding risk to human health.

Microorganisms contaminate surface water more often than ground water sources as The Bulletin reported this August. Most organisms can be killed using conventional water treatment, but not Cryptosporidium, which is found in mammal feces and has recently been more regulated by the federal government. Ultraviolet light or filtration can be used to remove it, and the city of Bend recently decided on the more expensive filtration option for Cryptosporidium, in part based on flawed analysis presented to the City Council by city engineers.

The additional expense for membrane filtration will fall on utility ratepayers and hurt economic growth, but that misses the larger point.

Without using surface water, the risk of contamination could be avoided entirely at far less cost and without expensive filtration systems. Moreover, a fire or erosion event on Bridge Creek would render both ultraviolet or filtration useless and could seriously risk our health.

Cryptosporidium typically causes outbreaks of diarrheal illness when it contaminates water supplies. The illness usually improves after two weeks but causes significant symptoms in the meantime. However, in older or immune-suppressed people, it can develop into a life-threatening persistent illness, which is often incurable. An outbreak caused by contaminated drinking water would do immeasurable harm to Bend in both human and economic terms. Further, a point source of water, such as ground water from wells, is inherently more secure and more difficult to tamper with than a disbursed surface source involving an entire watershed.

From the beginning, the city of Bend has conducted itself irresponsibly with misinformation and secrecy in dealing with this important infrastructure project. Because Bridge Creek water use requires permission from the U.S. Forest Service, the city of Bend has attempted to obtain a special use permit. Permitting was blocked previously because of incomplete analysis of the project impact by the Forest Service. Unfortunately, the newly released permit did little to fix the initial problems, and the city of Bend has forced the issue once again into federal court, choosing an adversarial and expensive approach rather than listening to citizens. Fortunately, Central Oregon LandWatch continues to advocate on behalf of Bend and sustainable growth.

Please consider contacting the city of Bend and encouraging councilors Mark Capell, Victor Chudowsky, Scott Ramsay and Jodie Barram to make more responsible decisions about the safety and sustainability of Bend’s drinking water supply. The Bend City Council is composed of good people trying to do the right thing, but they need to hear from us when they fail to understand the gravity of their decisions and what harm could befall economic development and human health.

— Nathan Boddie, M.D., M.S. lives in Bend.

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