New plant protects Baker City water from parasite; 2013 outbreak affected hundreds in city


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BAKER CITY, Oregon — Baker City officials say they have a parasite-killer in place to protect against a repeat of the intestinal sickness that affected up to a tenth of the town in 2013.

A $3 million water treatment plant that uses ultraviolet light against the parasite called cryptosporidium has successfully gone through a 30-day shakedown period, the Baker City Herald reported ( ).

The ultraviolet light alters the organism's genetic makeup so it can't reproduce. The plant replaces temporary ultraviolet equipment.

"It's nice to know we can breathe easy because every drop of water that we're sending to town has been treated," said City Engineer Doug Schwin.

The outbreak of severe diarrhea and stomach cramps in July 2013 hasn't been repeated. A few dozen cases were documented, but health officials estimated that it affected as many as one in 10 people in the city of 10,000.

The cause has not been pinpointed.

At first, officials suspected it came from the feces of wild elk near a mountain lake from which the city draws water. Later, suspicion turned to cattle grazing near streams the city taps.

Baker City gets its water from a 10,000-acre watershed on the east slopes of the Elkhorn Mountains about 10 miles west of town.

Residents use about 1 million gallons of water per day in the winter, Plant Operator Jake Jones said. In the summer, in the dry region in Eastern Oregon, residents can use eight to nine times that.

Information from: Baker City Herald,

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