Alamosa, Colorado and Walkerton, Ontario have something in common now. Both cities have in their history the experience of seeing their public water contaminated with tragic consequences. In Alamosa the water is tainted with salmonella.
Eight years ago, it was E. coli O157: H7 in Walkerton’s water that eventually led to seven deaths and 2,500 residents and visitors getting sick. The number getting sick from salmonella in Alamosa is approaching 300 and ten have had to be admitted to hospitals. Most who made ill are teenagers and younger.
The fact that Alamosa will recover in a way that Walkerton didn’t is good news. One of the differences is the Colorado city took action much quicker. Walkerton went for a week in 2000 denying that the problem could be in its water system.
Walkerton eventually admitted the reality and later learned that farm runoff into an adjacent well that was known for years to be vulnerable to contamination was the cause of all the misery and death.
Now Alamosa or at least the health officials are searching for how the salmonella got into the water. Three possibilities are on their list: cross contamination, cracked water pipes, or source contamination.
The flushing now going through 50 miles of pipe includes many that are old cast iron lines that are due for replacement. Alamosa itself is surrounded by mostly ranch land, some irrigated, that make runoff a possibility.
Walkerton found its answers, let’s hope Alamosa does too.