Alamosa is a town of 8,500 residents on the west side of the Rockies in southern Colorado, equidistant to Denver and Albuquerque. You may sometimes hear of Alamosa described by Al Roker or other morning weather reporters as the “nation’s icebox” in setting the low temperature of the lower 48 US states, a title for which it fights with Fraser, Colorado (home of Winter Park ski resort).
Alamosa is also a strikingly beautiful place in the middle of some unique geological features, including the nearby Great Sand Dunes National Monument, a massive group of dunes several hundred feet high against of the backdrop of a mountain range that includes peaks over 14,000 ft (4,268 m) high. Just north of Alamosa in the San Luis Valley is the Colorado Alligator Farm and Reptile Park, a tilapia fish farm that brought in alligators to eat waste materials – for a scientist who trained in both Florida and Colorado, Alamosa has it all.
I mention all of this first because you have probably also heard of Alamosa over the last week or two (on NPR, for example) as the site of one of the rarest municipal water Salmonella contamination episodes. On 19 March, the state announced a bottled water advisory as the city had detected Salmonella in the water supply. According to the Denver Post, the first case was reported on 7 March and over 300 people were ultimately sickened with at least a dozen hospitalized. Like many bacteria that enjoy the gastrointestinal tract, Salmonella causes diarrhea but can be fatal in small children, the elderly population, or anyone else with a compromised immune system. (For those readers with ID expertise, I am unable to find a source that names the precise species and counts throughout the episode – please do drop a comment if you have access to such information.)
Turns out that Alamosa had hosted one of the largest municipal water systems that had yet to institute a water chlorination program. A water conditioning plant had been scheduled to go online in the summer (to combat high arsenic levels in the water, common to mining areas) but the city has now started chlorination earlier than expected. So, the next time people are expressing concern about minute levels of chlorinated acid byproducts in the water supply, remind them of what could happen if we didn’t chlorinate our water.
Alamosa residents could not take showers for over a week and had to drink bottled water. The source of the contamination has yet to be identified conclusively, although wildlife feces is often contaminated with Salmonella. However, recent reports indicate local geese and deer have tested negative for the bacterium. Investigators from the CDC are on the scene and I expect a report will pop up in the next few weeks in their publication, Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report (MMWR). The other known Salmonella municipal water contaminations have occurred in Gideon, MO, in 1993 and Riverside, CA, in 1965 – the former was associated with dead birds found in the water supply, the cause of the Riverside episode remains unknown.
Alamosa is also home to Adams State College, a campus of 2,500 students where your humble blogger hopes to serve as an adjunct professor in his later years. Since no one has died from the Salmonella episode, college students can now make light of the episode. Adams student leaders have come up with this nice graphic, “I Still *Heart* Salamosa,” that they intend to print on T-shirts shortly.
And what about all of those water jugs Alamosans have now emptied and are faced with disposal or recycling? Well, the Colorado Gators Reptile Park will take them for bottling and selling their “fish emulsion” – and every jug returned will net you $1 off the price of admission.
What to do with all those plastic jugs?
In Thursday’s Pueblo Chieftain an important question was asked. What to do with all of Alamosa’s plastic jugs from the water emergency? some residents may be able to reuse a few of the thousands of jugs, but there will be tons to dispose of. Colorado Gators Reptile Park just north of Alamosa will be accepting jugs for admission for the month of April.
Colorado Gators began as a fish farm in 1977 using geothermal water to grow tilapia, a food fish cultivated all over the world. The fish farm is still operating and produces a good deal of dead fish and emulsion. They are now bottling fish emulsion for sale and can use the thousands of plastic jugs for something beneficial.
The jugs should be clean, unsmashed, and have the lid to be used for the fish emulsion. Alamosa residents will receive $1 off admission for each jug brought in, up to 6 jugs per person. That means a family of 5 may bring in 30 jugs and save $30 on admission! For more details on “Jugs for Admission”, call 719-378-2612.
So if your summer travels take you to the American Southwest, drop in to the sights and attractions around Alamosa – the water will be safe to drink by then.