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UPDATED: Echo Mutual Water Company users under boil order

The boil order was still in effect as of Tuesday.
Carolyn Franks - stock.adobe.com
The boil order was still in effect as of Tuesday.

The water company found E. coli in the water supply about a week ago.

UPDATE: This boil order was lifted May 26.

The contaminated sample was collected May 8.

The water company’s vice president Allen Wordon said he’s sick right now. Until he sees a doctor, Wordon won’t know if it’s from the water, but he does know his bathwater had a yellowish tinge to it last week.

“It's a pretty big deal. I can tell you from living here for 30-some odd years, this is the first time I've had an issue with the water to this extent,” he said.

Wordon said he couldn’t see a difference in the water when running it from a tap or taking a shower, just when drawing a bath.

“Lo and behold, the next day somebody calls and says, ‘Hey, don't drink any water. You're under a boil order.’ It all happened that fast,” he said. “But I'd seen the water a month ago—it was looking kind of yellowish, and it just steadily got worse.”

Echo Mutual Water Company’s boil order went out May 10 when tests revealed E. coli, and it is still in effect as of Tuesday, May 16.

The company services about 55 people in far northern Summit County and collects its water from a handful of springs in the mountains above the Echo Reservoir.

Fortunately, Wordon said he hasn’t heard of anyone else getting sick.

The exact cause of contamination isn’t yet known, but because the water supply is spring-based, the water coming from the ground can mingle with surface water.

Summit County Environmental Health Director Nate Brooks said spring-based water supplies are at increased risk during the spring, especially with this year’s runoff.

“It's not uncommon this time of year that a spring-type system is going to possibly take surface-influenced water, which is where you pick up the bacteria,” Brooks said.

The way the company gets the spring water is by running pipes into the ground to get closer to the source. The water then goes into collection boxes and treatment tanks where it’s chlorinated to kill any bad bacteria.

But Brooks said, with additional water entering the system from spring runoff, the chlorine may not have had enough time to treat the water.

“Chlorine requires contact time, which usually happens in the storage tank, but it was overflowing,” he said.

A regular monthly test at the beginning of May didn’t find harmful bacteria in Echo Mutual’s water, but Brooks said it did show lower than normal levels of chlorine.

He said it tipped off the county and the water company to perform more regular tests.

“We talked to the water operator of Echo Mutual Water and said to watch it closely, see what happens,” Brooks said. “He noticed the same thing with his chlorine readings.” 

Subsequent tests were positive for E. coli and another microbe called coliform.

E. coli are a type of coliform bacteria, but in general, coliform isn’t toxic. Brooks said water testers use it as an indicator: if coliform is in the water, it’s a sign that something could be going wrong.

The most recent samples pulled Friday tested negative for E. coli but still registered coliform. Brooks said it’s a sign the county and water company are making progress.

He explained that the solution has been to reroute some of the water, so the collection tanks don’t get overfilled, and to add chlorine back into the system.

Brooks said Echo Mutual has been a good partner to work with and that they’re collecting more samples Tuesday. He’s hoping for good results so the boil order can be lifted.

The Summit County Health Department said contamination is always a concern after a flood. The county runs a water testing program and publishes information on how to disinfect drinking water wells.

There’s more information at summitcounty.org/flooding.