The Town of Buffalo, as a public water supply system, is required to deliver safe and reliable drinking water to our customers 24 hours a day, 365 days a year. If the water supply becomes contaminated, consumers can become seriously ill. Fortunately, many steps are being taken to ensure that the public is provided with safe drinking water. One of out most important steps is to have the water tested for coliform bacteria on a monthly basis.
What are coliform bacteria?
Coliform bacteria are organisms that are common in our environment and are generally not harmful. However, the presence of coliform bacteria in drinking water indicates that disease-causing organisms (pathogens) may be present in the water system. If coliform bacteria are found in a water sample, steps are taken to find the source of contamination and restore safe drinking water. There are three groups of coliform bacteria; each has a different level of risk.
Total coliform, Fecal coliform, and E. coli
Total coliform, fecal coliform and E. coli are all indicators of drinking water quality. The total coliform group is a large collection of different kinds of bacteria. The fecal coliform group is a sub-group of total coliform and has fewer kinds of bacteria. E. coli is a sub-group of fecal coliform. When a water sample is sent to our lab (Oklahoma Department of Environmental Quality), it is tested for total coliform. If total coliform is present, the sample is then tested for E. coli. Up to now, the Town of Buffalo has NEVER had any other than total coliform bacteria in any of the samples that has come back present of coliform. Of these samples of total bacteria present, the level of total coliform has never been over 0.20ppm (parts per million), the maximum of total coliform is 200ppm.
Total coliform bacteria are commonly found in the environment (e.g. soil or vegetation) and are generally harmless. If only total coliform bacteria are detected in drinking water, the source is probably environmental. fecal contamination is notlikely. However, if environmental contamination can enter the system, there may be a way for pathogens to enter the system. Therefore it is important to determine the source and to resolve the problem.
Fecal coliform bacteria are a sub group of the total coliform group. They appear in great quantities in the intestines and feces of people and animals. The presence of fecal coliform in a drinking water sample often indicates a recent fecal contamination, meaning that there is a greater risk that pathogens are present than only if total coliform bacteria is detected.
E. coli bacteria are a sub group of the fecal coliform group. Most E. coli are harmless and are found in great quantities in the intestines of people and warm-blooded animals. Some strains, however, may cause serious illness. The presence of E. coli in a drinking water sample almost always indicates recent fecal contamination, meaning that there is a greater risk that pathogens are present.
A note about E. coli - E. coli outbreaks receive much media coverage, and you have probably read about the Spinach and Lettuce epidemic recently. Most outbreaks have been related to food contamination. However, if a drinking water sample is reported as E. coli present, it does mean recent fecal contamination. Boiling the drinking water, or treating contaminated water with a disinfectant, destroys all E. coli.
When coliform bacteria are found, steps are taken to identify the source of the contamination. More "repeat" samples are collected and are analyzed at the lab. Taking repeat samples helps determine whether an actual problem exists in the system. Sometimes a sample shows a presence of coliform because of poor sampling techniques, or because a contaminated sampling faucet, and not because an actual problem exists. Also, if the sample is above or below the 100ml mark, it will come back as a bad sample. Indeed, sometimes a sample becomes delayed in the mail and exceeds a holding time of 30 hours; if this is the case, it will come back as a bad sample. These are all violations of the Safe Drinking Qater Act, and all have happened to the Town of Buffalo.
What happens if total coliform bacteria are confirmed in my water?
If total coliform bacteria are confirmed in your drinking water, a system inspection is conducted to find and eliminate any possible sources of contamination. Once the source is identified it can usually be resolved by making system repairs or by flushing and/or "shock" cholorinating the system. The department is usually in contact with water systems and will help to resolve the problems if needed. The Town of Buffalo is required to notify you within 30 days about the violation. The notice will inform you of the steps we are taking to correct the problem.
The Town of Buffalo is required to keep our Chlorine (10 % sodium hypochlorite) level at 0.2ppm. We are keeping our level between 0.2ppm and 0.3ppm. This is to ensure our drinking water is of the best possible quality. Even at this amount, few people (even those with an acute sense of taste or smell) will be able to detect the Chlorine in our drinking water supply.
For more information:
ODEQ (Code Enforcement) 580-256-0641
Lin Kottke - ODEQ Envoronmental Programs Specialist - 580-338-1357
Brian Bowles- Superintendent 580-735-2030