NORTH LINCOLN COUNTY — Late last week, Lincoln County issued clarifications to initial recommendations for using tap water within water districts affected by the Echo Mountain Complex fire that burned last month north of Lincoln City.
Those came after some residents remained unsure last week whether to boil their water prior to use, to use without caution or to refrain from using their tap water at all.
Following an investigation last week by the News-Times that found residents in several community water systems had received conflicting information from water district officials and Lincoln County, the county posted its clarification.
On Friday, Oct. 2, Lincoln County Public Health released an updated after-fire water-use recommendations document for well users and residents of 12 water systems — Highland Water Corporation’s Bear Creek, Boulder Creek, Echo Mountain and Riverbend systems, Antonio’s Bar and Grill in Otis, the Guptil Subdivision, the Lincoln City KOA, Otis Junction Water System, Panther Creek Water District, Salmon River Mobile Village, Salmon River RV Park and the Westwind Stewardship Group.
“Do not drink, prepare food or wash with tap water until officials say the water source is safe,” reads last Friday’s release from Lincoln County Public Health. “Contact your water provider or check their website for up-to-date information. Use bottled water until you hear differently from your water system operator.”
Output from the water systems in question — in particular, Panther Creek, Riverbend and Echo Mountain Park — must have water samples analyzed in search of volatile organic compounds (VOCs), produced when plastic pipes are exposed to a high degree of heat. That can cause pipes to release benzenes or other dangerous products from chemicals or gas.
Multiple managers from affected water systems told the News-Times last week that the Oregon Health Authority failed to advise them of the potential ill effects residents could suffer following boiling or using tap water.
One resident of the Highland Water Corp’s Riverbend system told the News-Times she was told via phone call Sept. 29 that “our water was safe,” but found a notification stuck to her fence Friday advising her not to use it.
In an email to the News-Times, Casey Miller, the county’s public information officer, faulted state officials for residents’ inability to receive concrete water safety information.
“We feel that the state should have been more agile and involved in their responsibility to notify the affected communities of the relevant hazards and safety procedures regarding VOCs,” Miller wrote.
Water sample test results from Panther Creek and Highland Corp. Riverbend water systems remained pending as of the News-Times’ deadline.
The county’s recommendations for those with their own wells and not on a community water system are as follows:
• Visually check for damaged, melted and/or exposed electrical wiring, PVC casing, liner, pipes, damaged well houses and pressure tanks and excess debris such as ash or sediment in uncovered wells.
• Exposed electrical wiring to wells produce a significant hazard. Do not handle wiring or touch the casing and flag the area around it as a precaution
• Dug wells and septic systems with covers that may have been damaged by fire are a public safety risk. Damaged well covers can collapse or drop into a septic tank or well.
• Be aware of possible sinkholes and flag or barricade the immediate area for safety precautions.
Owners of fire damaged or potentially damaged wells are recommended to call a licensed and bonded constructor or pump installer to determine the extent of damages.
For further information, contact the Lincoln County Emergency Call Center at 541-265-0621, or visit the county’s Public Health webpage at www.co.lincoln.or.us/hhs/page/public-health. Additional information is located on the Echo Mountain Complex fire Facebook page.
Water system contact numbers
Highland Water Corp. — Bear Creek 503-554-8333
Highland Water Corp. — Boulder Creek 503-554-8333
Highland Water Corp. — Echo Mountain 503-554-8333
Highland Water Corp. — Riverbend 503-554-8333
Antonio’s Bar and Grill 541-961-4993
Guptil Subdivision 542-921-3777
Lincoln City KOA 541-994-2961
Otis Junction Water System 541-996-4844
Panther Creek Water District 541-994-7293
Salmon River Mobile Village 541-994-3893
Salmon River RV Park 541-994-3116
Westwind Stewardship Group 541-994-2383