Lacey, Washington, a town halfway between Olympia and Tacoma, has lost its distinction of being the state’s largest town without a chlorinated municipal water system. Lacey’s 32,000 people, and an additional 25,000 people just outside the town borders who also will benefit from the new chlorinated water system, will no longer have to fear contracting potentially deadly bacteria from their tap water.
Coliform Bacteria Indicated Trouble
The Lacey City Council in January decided to permanently disinfect the city’s water supply and water transportation pipes after fighting a year-long battle against coliform bacteria. Although coliform bacteria is harmless, its presence is an indicator that more harmful and potentially deadly pathogens, such as fecal coliform or E. coli, may threaten the water supply.
“We recognize that this will be a significant change for our customers, but believe that the safeguards provided by a permanently chlorinated water system far outweigh any drawbacks,” emphasized Lacey Public Works Director Dennis Ritter on the town’s Web site.
“A total coliform violation occurs when more than 5 percent of water samples taken during a month test positive for the presence of coliform bacteria,” explained Lacey’s 2004 Drinking Water Report. “During 2004, monthly water samples in February, May, and October exceeded the 5 percent limit for coliform detections, which signified non-acute violations for each of those months. Coliforms are bacteria that are normally present in the environment and are used as an indicator that other, potentially harmful, bacteria may be present. Coliforms were found in more samples than allowed, and this was a warning of potential problems.”
Water Report Touts Chlorine
“Throughout the world,” the report noted, “chlorine is the most commonly used drinking water disinfectant. Chlorine has many benefits as a disinfectant. It kills or inactivates bacteria and many disease-causing organisms. It is simple to use and relatively inexpensive. It also provides ‘residual’ benefits, since chlorine remains at low levels in the water as it travels through the distribution system, fighting against potential contamination all the way to the consumers’ taps.”
Summarized the report, “Total coliform bacteria were repeatedly detected in the water system between September 2003 and October 2004. A comprehensive effort to identify and eliminate the source of the bacteria was undertaken, including extensive flushing of water lines, investigation of illegal cross connections, and temporary chlorination in portions of the distribution system.
“Those efforts were simply not enough to resolve the problem. In early 2005, the City Council determined that permanent disinfection throughout the system is necessary to ensure that the water system and our customers are adequately protected.”
James M. Taylor ([email protected]) is managing editor of Environment & Climate News.