Oak Creek Intermediate remained under a “Do Not Drink” order this week after its water supply tested positive for the fecal bacteria E. Coli, according to Glenn Reid, superintendent of Bass Lake Joint Union School District.
The school’s kitchen, which Reid said serves around 160 breakfasts and 430-500 lunches daily for the entire district, has been closed since Jan. 13. Yosemite High School has acted as a replacement, Reid said, with hopes the order could be withdrawn soon.
“We could actually drink the water today,” Reid said Jan. 30. “But the county, for safety’s sake, would like us to have ‘negative’ results over a period of time before they allow us back in the cafeteria.”
Reid said the hope was to have the system completely cleared next week, but that remains in the hands of the county and state.
Robert Dias Jr., director of maintenance operations and transportation for BLJUSD, said a routine monthly sample was taken at OCI Jan. 10 and came back positive for Coliform, a grouping of fecal bacteria.
Four repeat samples were taken two days later, Dias said. Around 2 p.m. Friday, Jan. 13, Dias said three proved positive for E. Coli, a bacteria that falls under the Coliform type and can cause dangerous health problems such as kidney failure and severe anemia. That triggered immediate response protocols such as closing the kitchen and the “Do Not Drink” order, Reid said.
Staff from the Madera County Environmental Health Department and State Water Resources Control Board said the most likely cause for the contamination was heavy rainfall, which could have pooled bacteria and flooded the system.
Over the Martin Luther King Jr. weekend, Dias noted staff were hard at work preparing OCI for the safe return of students and staff. All classrooms have been on bottled water since the start of the school year last summer, Reid said, mostly because fountains across the district have been routinely vandalized.
“Along with minor vandalism and pipes freezing in winter, we just couldn’t keep up with fixing things all the time,” Reid said. “So all sites in the district have been on bottled water for more than a year.”
In order to disinfect the system, as per state and county orders, Reid said it was thoroughly bleached with chlorine, and it will take time for the chemical to dissipate.
Several samples were taken by staff from the Madera County Environmental Health Department and the State Water Resources Control Board and came up clean for E. Coli.
Further tests were made throughout the system to verify no possibility of cross contamination, such as by the entry of insects, frogs, or lizards, Dias said.
While the water is considered unsafe to drink, Reid said students can wash their hands with it without issue. He added, however, signs are in place to remind students they shouldn’t brush their teeth or otherwise open up the possibility of consumption.
“That may sound funny, but a student could certainly go into a bathroom and brush their teeth in the sink,” Reid said. “So we don’t want them to do that.”
Once it is assured the system is safe, all restrictions will be cleared, Reid said. He said a chlorinator was added to OCI’s well to shoot a small amount of the cleaning chemical into the water in order to keep it pure.
Anyone with questions is asked to contact Dias at (559) 642-1559.
BLJUSD includes OCI, Wasuma Elementary School, Oakhurst Elementary School, and Fresno Flats Day School.