Morrow County Emergency Manager Paul Gray helped to move hundreds of cases of drinking water Thursday, June 23, for people dealing with nitrates contaminating their water.
“My muscles are hurting right now,” Gray said.
He was sweaty, red-faced, panting and shaking at the end of the day, but he said he was optimistic about his efforts. He expressed happiness that he soon would receive additional help, thanks in part to a decision Morrow County commissioners made one day prior.
Board of commissioners grant aid
In a 2-1 vote June 22, Morrow County Commissioners approved $100,000 for an emergency effort to deal with groundwater contamination in Morrow County.
Commissioners Jim Doherty and Melissa Lindsay voted in favor of the aid. Commissioner Don Russell voted against it, and he brought up concerns about an emergency budget that was not as detailed as he would’ve preferred.
Doherty on June 23 said money would help in various ways, including sending workers to assist with water delivery. This would take much of the physical labor away from the emergency manager.
“He’s leaned in and is doing a great job,” Doherty said.
He credited the emergency manager as a “do-er,” someone who has moved water and transported pipes in this recent emergency. The commissioner said Gray, who has done his part getting his hands dirty, soon should transition to work that is less physically taxing, though.
Helpers emerge in emergencies
“Emergency management deals with a lot of stuff,” Gray said.
According to Gray, it is his responsibility to be on the front line of an emergency. In the past, he has set sandbags and has done other work to stave off disaster.
He said he is ready for other troubles, too, such as flooding, storms and nuclear accidents. In all these cases, he said, he would do anything he could to protect his community.
Fortunately, he added, other people have acted on the same feelings.
Patrick Keeley was one of the people assisting Gray. A work crew supervisor and officer for the Morrow County Sheriff’s Office, he was dressed in a police uniform that included a heavy vest. He was onsite, accompanying another worker, a man who was doing community service.
Keely admitted this wasn’t his usual work, and he wasn’t exactly dressed for it, but he was glad to be lending a hand.
Gray said other people helped, too. Workers included people from the Morrow County Health Department, local businesses and other organizations.
Boardman Foods is one of the helpers, according to Debbie Radie, Boardman Foods vice president of operations. She said the company is distributing drinking water and testing samples of well water at its facility, 71320 Columbia Blvd., Boardman.
She said the site has collected around 30 samples a day in this first week of testing.
The Boardman Foods site is one of three places where workers are testing well water for nitrate levels.
At the Irrigon site and at Sam Boardman Elementary School, 301 Wilson Road S.W., Boardman, there is a “rapid test,” which can read nitrate levels up to 15 parts per million.
Meanwhile, the Boardman Foods tests can reveal if nitrate levels are even higher, though it takes a full week to get an answer about levels of nitrates. As such, Radie said she does not yet have test results.
According to Radie, Boardman Foods and other local companies are coming together to help, and they are working in the interest of the public.
“The primary reason we got together is because we care about our employees; we care about our community,” she said. “We always have. We’re always rising to the occasion of any kind of situation.”
City of Boardman responds
The city of Boardman on June 23 reported it is using a number of communication tools to address the concerns Morrow County’s recent emergency declaration raised relating to contamination in rural drinking wells. The city in a press release stated officials are working to let residents city drinking water is safe, meeting and exceeding state and federal water quality guidelines.
“We want Boardman city residents to know that the safety of families in our community is our top priority — so we are taking an extra effort to share testing information and reports that provide confidence in the quality of the drinking water that we supply to city residents and local businesses,” Boardman City Manager Karen Pettigrew said in a statement.
The city reported it has taken the following steps to share information about its safe drinking water:
• Water quality testing results are available on the city website, www.cityofboardman.com, showing nitrate levels well within safety ranges established by Oregon Health Authority.
• Information about safety of drinking water and city hall contact information on the city reader board.
• Public service information flyers in key locations around Boardman.
Boardman also reported the city sent safe drinking water public service information to residential developers and city home-owners
“We continue to work closely with all local community health partners to make sure our neighbors get the assistance they need — we particularly applaud the efforts of the local businesses that have volunteered assistance in distributing clean water and paying for testing kits/filtration systems for our neighbors in rural Morrow County,” according to Pettigrew
For more information about safe drinking water, contact Boardman City Hall at 541-481- 9252.
Looking toward the next steps
Gray said helpers will be giving way to new workers and new methods for combating this emergency.
“By next week, I’ll be back behind a desk,” he said.
Sites will be open a few times a week, he said, staffed by volunteers and paid workers, to distribute water and accept water samples.
He said distribution will start changing, too. Water deliveries will, more and more, replace pick-up locations.
In time, he said, the county plans to distribute filters to each home. This is the mid-term plan, he said.
Gray explained as the emergency managers, he is concerned with the disaster itself, but the long-term plan involves government actually solving the ground-water problem so water is no longer polluted.
Elected county and city officials, he said, will have to “figure out what to do with that.”