Boil-water order lifted, no one sick after E. coli scare at North Tahoe community

Margaret Moran
Courtesy Thinkstock.comHomes served by the Agate Bay Water Company were told to boil water for roughly three weeks.
Getty Images/Hemera | Hemera

AGATE BAY, Calif. – A boil-water order for Agate Bay property owners was lifted this past Friday upon instruction from the California Department of Public Health after samples taken roughly four weeks ago discovered the community’s drinking water had tested positive for E. coli contamination.

The contamination was discovered the evening of Dec. 14 after one of five water samples taken by Western Environmental Labs in Sparks, Nev., on Dec. 13 in the Agate Bay neighborhood came back positive, said Duncan Davis, Agate Bay Water Company manager.

E. coli is a diverse group of bacteria with most strains being harmless, but some can cause diarrhea, urinary tract infections, respiratory illness, pneumonia and other illnesses, according to the Center for Disease Control and Prevention.

“We are very grateful there were no reported incidents of illness related to the drinking water provided by Agate Bay Water Company – before, during or after this time period,” the company said in a prepared statement.

Upon learning of the contamination, the Drinking Water Division of the California Department of Public Health instructed Agate Bay Water Company, located at 710 Agate Road in Carnelian Bay, on the morning of Dec. 15 to issue a boil water advisory to all households serviced by the company, Davis said. In all, 580 households were affected.

A printed notice provided by the state health department was distributed that day to all households, Davis said, advising residents to boil their water for one minute, or to use bottled water for activities such as brushing teeth, washing dishes and food preparation until further notice.

Agate Bay Water Company then complied with additional requests from the state health department, including flushing and chlorinating the water system, Davis said. Additional testing was ordered to be done “immediately,” all of which returned with negative results for E. coli, Davis said.

“The source of the contamination is unknown,” Davis said Tuesday. “… All testing done since that date – including at the original source of the first positive test – has been negative for E. coli. Unfortunately, there is no way to conclusively determine why the sample tested positive.”

According to the written notice distributed to households, bacterial contamination can occur when increased runoff enters a drinking water source, when pipes break or if a provider’s water treatment process fails.

All households were advised between Sunday and Monday of this week that the boil notice had been lifted after the water company got the OK from the state health department to do so on Friday, Davis said.

State health department officials were working on submitting comments for this story, but did not meet press deadlines Tuesday. A call to Western Environmental Testing Laboratory in Sparks was not immediately returned due to staff being out of the office Tuesday.

The issue surfaced on Monday, when residents contacted the Sierra Sun about the boil water order.

“I don’t understand why it took so long to rectify the situation,” said Agate Bay resident Debra Schroepfer, adding that the situation was particularly difficult since it occurred during the holiday season.

“(An) inconvenience? Yes,” added Agate Bay resident Christine Madden. “But it would be a lot worse to be sick.”

Madden went on to say she respected that testing needed to be done and the need to be cautious.

“We highly value both our water and our customers,” the water company said in its prepared statement. “We greatly appreciate their patience and understanding as we worked our way through this first ever incidence of possible contamination.”

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