Oregon Health Authority (OHA) has released an investigative report with the preliminary determination that a danger to public health exists due to fecal contamination and susceptibility in wells to the north of Milton-Freewater in Umatilla County. The process follows Oregon Revised Statute (ORS) 222.840 to 222.915
. A hearing will be held with the purpose of determining whether a danger to public health exists due to conditions in the affected territory. The date and location of the hearing will be posted here as well as the local newspaper.
Frequently Asked Questions
What's the problem?
The area north of the City of Milton-Freewater, outside city limits but within the Urban Growth Boundary, has several wells where the presence of fecal contamination recently, and historically, has been detected. The annexation process under the state's Health Hazard Abatement Act was initiated, and the Drinking Water Services investigation found that due to the fecal contamination, a danger to public health exists.
What is the Health Hazard Abatement Act?
Oregon law (ORS 222.840 to 222.915
) provides that if conditions dangerous to public health exist in a territory bordering a city, the territory may be annexed without a vote of the property owners. Such annexations may take place only where it is possible for potentially hazardous conditions to be corrected by the use of sewer or water supply systems, or other facilities ordinarily provided by incorporated cities. Conditions that could expose the public to communicable diseases include impure drinking water, inadequate disposal of sewage or other wastes and poor drainage.
What should residents and business owners in that area do?
Individual property owners in the area north of the City of Milton-Freewater have been notified of the results of the recent sampling, along with recommendations on how to reduce contamination and risk of illness, including flushing their water systems, boiling their water and chemical disinfection (chlorination).
What are the next steps?
According to the process laid out in the statute, ORS 222.840 to 222.915
, OHA will conduct a public hearing at which affected parties will have the opportunity to provide evidence as to whether a danger to public health exists due to conditions in the affected territory or not.
Where did the fecal matter contaminating the water come from?
We may never know for sure, but fecal contamination can come from malfunctioning septic systems, animal waste or surface water containing fecal contamination infiltrating the groundwater aquifer.
Will additional testing take place? If so, when?
OHA has no plans to conduct additional testing. However, property owners may wish to periodically sample their wells for contaminants on their own.
Can the well water be treated to remove the health risk?
Yes. Chlorination with contact time would inactivate the bacteria and viruses that may be present. However, it would not be sufficient for certain organisms that may be entering the aquifer from the Walla Walla River. Certain types of ultraviolet (UV) light are effective at inactivating the Giardia
, but viruses can be very difficult to treat with UV. Both types of treatment require careful maintenance to ensure they are effective.
Who pays for the annexation?
The statute does not address costs. The city would decide how the annexation costs are paid.