Salmonella in Alamosa water supply - "I still love 'Salamosa'"

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.

i-46dc39866445b3fa54027c3a1b9a384f-salamosa-centered.jpgAlamosa 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.

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I was planning to go there for Memorial Day (or, rather, to the Sand Dunes). I'll carry my own water, though.

Only 2 species in the Genus Salmonellae (with a recent report of a possible 3rd). The overwhelming majority of human (and indeed mammalian and avian) salmonellosis is caused by the species Salmonella enterica subspecies I (Enterica)- which contains over 1400 different serotypes (all the medically important ones). Now, as for which serotype is responsible- it takes a little time to sort this out- and the serotype responsible hasn't been identified in any news reports or by the colorado department of public health...

Alamosa's water comes from fairly deep artesian wells, and the arsenic exists naturally, not due to mining in the area. The Alamosa River on the west side of the valley is polluted by heavy metals, for the most part a result of mining activity.

Thanks for the correction, cronk. I used to have a deep well as well and there were indeed some metals in it I would've preferred weren't.

By the way, we've been getting some nice traffic today from SLV Dweller (SLV for San Luis Valley) - thanks for the link.

Also, the Google ads on your comment e-mail include listings for 40 acre ranch parcels for $53-95K at Circle DJ Ranch just NW of Alamosa - the more expensive lots have a pond and well and "All lots have deeded access, road frontage, and electric, telephone and high speed internet service available." Just a little FYI to promote the region.

Goodness, you can't find a 1 bedroom flat in a civilized part of Prague for less than $120,000 (bear in mind the dollar is at an all-time low while the koruna has been going from strength to strength. But still...)
We don't have salmonella in the water, though I wouldn't eat a prepackaged sandwich containing mayonnaise (=all of them) around here in summer. Sometimes eggs themselves get pulled off the shelf.
We did have some interesting minor health issues just after the 2002 floods, when all the water treatment plants had been flooded with river water, as well as the storm drains etc.

By AntiquatedTory (not verified) on 22 Apr 2008 #permalink