Portland Water Bureau: Seagull likely E. coli culprit

Portland Water Bureau: Seagull likely E. coli culprit
A screenshot from KATU news coverage of the Washington Park reservoir's draining after water bureau officials announced a "boil water order" on the weekend after Thanksgiving.

PORTLAND, Ore. - Beginning Thursday, Washington Park's Reservoir No. 3 will begin supplying drinking water to Westsiders for the first time since Thanksgiving weekend.

The 16-million-gallon drinking water reservoir was removed from service after two drinking water samples from the reservoir indicated a clear presence of E. coli bacteria. In response, the bureau issued a Boil Water Notice to customers west of the Willamette River and customers of Burlington, Palatine Hill and Valley View Water Districts that lasted for approximately 24 hours.

Portland Water Bureau said its initial test results, in the first few days following the discovery of the bacteria, determined that it was not E. coli O157:H7. That's the strain most often associated with serious illness in people. Further testing from a Seattle lab determined that the bacteria found was not pathogenic or disease causing. 

The Seattle lab also determined that the bacteria were most likely from a bird. While not an exact match, DNA results suggest the most likely match is to a seagull.

In order to bring the reservoir back into service, the Water Bureau began cleaning and disinfecting the empty reservoir early this week. Once filled to operational levels, the water will be sampled and the reservoir will be placed back into service when the sample results come back from the lab on Thursday.

The Portland Water Bureau, along with the Portland Office of Emergency Management and the Bureau of Technology Services, is finalizing a "Request for Proposal" that should be available Dec. 28. This initiates an official bidding process for vendors interested in supplying the city with "a state-of-the-art city-wide emergency alert and call-out system that will enable city leaders to inform the public of emergencies such as the recent reservoir contamination event," according to a Portland Water Bureau statement.

"The system [should] be robust," reports the bureau's Acting Public Information Officer Sarah Bott, "and able to contact the public, businesses and organizations through a variety of methods including land lines, cell phones, e-mail, pagers, text messages, VOIP" and other routes.