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City finds Wright Street E. coli source

In a eureka moment, city crews Wednesday found a home in the 2500 block of Wright Street in Ericksen’s Addition that has been dumping dangerous levels of E. coli into Mill Creek.

The home is on the city sewer system, but in dye testing from the home’s fixtures, the dye came out two hours later at a creekside “mystery pipe,” so called because the city has been working for months to find the pipe’s origination and eliminate the toxin outflow.

Crews “were happy” with the discovery, said Steve Byers, wastewater collections manager for The Dalles Public Works Department.

Now, they’re hoping to quickly begin the repair process. The city has made an emergency locate request at the house, meaning various entities with buried lines — from phone companies to utilities — will mark the locations of their lines.

The city is also filling in the 10-foot deep hole it dug last week at 23rd and Wright streets in search of the mystery pipe, so that when a new hole is dug at the house, access will still be open to a nursing home on the other side of Mill Creek.

Byers said crews hope to begin today or tomorrow on repairs at the home.

The home was one of two dye-tested early Wednesday — one in the 2400 block of Wright Street, and the one in the 2500 block. When dye appeared, crews had to re-dye both homes, using different color dyes, to determine which one was leaking.

Ideally, there will be an above-ground access point at the home so the sewer line can be examined with a scope to find problems, Byers said. If there’s no such above-ground access point, they’re just going to have to start digging from the main to find the problem and fix it, he said.

The city will diagnose and fix the problem if it’s in the street. If it’s on private property, that will be the homeowner’s obligation.

“Rather than waiting for them to do their side, we’ll just do our side. We’re trying to expedite things a little bit here,” he said.

It did take two hours for the dye to show up.

“It’s hard to tell where the repair needs to be made,” he said.

Byers is assuming “there is some kind of a cross problem going on where it’s leaking out of one pipe and getting into that other pipe [the mystery pipe].”

Officials assume the mystery pipe is a drain pipe meant to dewater natural springs in Ericksen’s Addition, done to stabilize the hillside for development.

The homeowner’s sewer pipe and the mystery pipe are made of Orangeberg, a tar-like material used in the 1950s that is prone to failure.

The “mystery pipe” was found in August 2012 when the Wasco County Soil & Water Conservation District was testing Mill Creek for E. coli.

The pipe, jutting from the creek behind a house in the 2400 block of Mill Creek, is dumping water at such high levels of E. coli they can’t be measured with tests. The city recently posted Mill Creek as unsafe for swimming.

E. coli is found in human and animal waste. Most strains of E. coli are harmless, but some can cause illness in the very young and the elderly.

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