Colo. Town Flushes Salmonella from Water System

As Alamosa, Colo., recovers from a salmonella outbreak that sickened 300 people, Mayor Farris Bervig talks about learning how to manage such a crisis and what it means to be under yellow water notices.

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MICHEL NORRIS, host:

For several weeks now, the small farm community of Alamosa, Colorado, has been grappling with an outbreak of salmonella. The bacteria somehow got in the city's water supply. More than a dozen people were hospitalized, and about 300 have gotten sick with nearly a hundred cases confirmed as salmonella.

Farris Bervig is the mayor of Alamosa. And like his fellow citizens, he's had to live without water until recently. He told us this week that he had his first shower in several days.

Mayor FARRIS BERVIG (Democrat, Alamosa): We were on about six, seven days of what we call red alert here. The only thing we could do with our water was flush our toilets. And then a couple days ago, they've put us into, what we call a yellow phase, and that meant we could take and take showers. We could wash clothes, flush toilets, and actually, we could wash our hands. So, life is getting much better these last couple of days.

NORRIS: Now, I don't want to get too personal, but how long was it from your last shower?

Mayor BERVIG: About five, six days.

NORRIS: Now, that must feel good.

Mayor BERVIG: Yeah, it did. In all honesty, people in our community - we're a community of about 9,000 people or slightly less, and we have a large rural area around our city where people live outside of the city limits and have their own well water. Many of those people opened their doors, and they did this on the e-mail and faxed us, look, we have good water, if you need a shower, give us a call, and you could come and use our facilities. And then the Comfort Inn just — which is west of us a little bit, that's had its own well. He opened up his place during the day for, I think, it was like about 10 in the morning until about three in the afternoon. And in a five-day period of time, 1,153 people used his place for showers.

NORRIS: Now, these aren't paying customers; they were staying at the hotel. They're just…

Mayor BERVIG: No, no. These are just - all you had to do as a resident of the city, go out there and bring your own towel and your own soap. And the owner of that, Jack Mosetti(ph), said, yes, you may use our showers. And that's how many people used the shower out there during that little period of time.

NORRIS: Well, it sounds like out of adversity, you've really seen a real sort of community spirit.

Mayor BERVIG: Absolutely. When we found that we had this problem last week on about Tuesday or Wednesday, and we immediately told our citizens to go to bottled water. So, we did that. And I tell you what, grocery stores, other communities around us, I'm thinking about three days we had 15 semi-loads of bottled water trucked into Alamosa and given to us to give to our citizens. Isn't that amazing? Just really an outpouring of support from everybody.

NORRIS: Mm-hmm.

Mayor BERVIG: So then we started chlorinating the system. We have 50 miles of pipe in our community for our water, and in seven days, they decontaminated that entire 50 miles of pipe, and we're not down to a safe consumption level yet.

NORRIS: You know, most of us take water for granted. When we turn on the faucet, there it is. Want to take a shower? There is it for us.

Mayor BERVIG: Yup.

NORRIS: You've been living for sometime without access to water. What is that like?

Mayor BERVIG: Well, you know, if you ever go on camping up in the mountains for a hike for a week.

NORRIS: Mm-hmm.

Mayor BERVIG: You don't dip and take any showers then, but you use the - whatever you had available to keep yourself from being too offensive to the rest of the population.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mayor BERVIG: It's inconvenient. But, you know, out here in our part of the world, in Southern Colorado, compared to a heavily populated area like maybe you're from, it's just not that hard.

NORRIS: What about restaurants and other businesses?

Mayor BERVIG: The restaurants are probably hit the hardest. Some of our restaurants closed up and they still are closed today. A couple of the larger ones would have about 5,000-gallon tanker parked outside of their restaurants so they could always have freshwater for their customers and for their food preparation. So everybody is very ingenious as how they make this whole thing work.

NORRIS: Well, thanks so much for speaking with us, mayor.

Mayor BERVIG: You bet.

NORRIS: That was Farris Bervig. He's the mayor of the city of Alamosa, Colorado.

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