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West Palm Beach water issues similar to problems in Salem, Oregon, 3 years ago

'It took us quite a while to get through that experience,' Salem spokeswoman says
Posted at 3:44 PM, Jun 10, 2021

WEST PALM BEACH, Fla. — As West Palm Beach emerges from its recent drinking water crisis, its leaders are promising to learn lessons from the incident.

WPTV Contact 5 spoke with an official in Salem, Oregon, which had the same toxins in its drinking water in 2018.

MORE: West Palm Beach pushes back, defends response to water crisis

The circumstances of what happened in Salem are very similar to West Palm Beach:

  • The drinking water was laced with blue-green algae
  • Toxins from the algae showed up in tap water tests
  • The public wasn't warned for several days
  • The young, old and medically vulnerable were told not to drink from the tap
  • Local governments hand out bottled water

Contact 5 Investigator Dave Bohman spoke with Salem spokeswoman Heather Dimke about the water advisory that occurred in her city three years ago.

"How did the public handle it?" Bohman asked.

Salem, Oregon spokeswoman Heather Dimke
Heather Dimke

"Well, honestly it was scary. It was scary for the public. It was scary for our community. It was scary for staff," Dimke said. "It took us quite a while to get through that experience."

That 2018 water advisory in Salem lasted from Memorial Day to July Fourth.

In its wake came lasting changes in how Oregon communities test tap water and report problems.

State law in Oregon requires communities to immediately warn the public of potentially dangerous levels of toxins. Salem now tests water weekly, unless algae blooms are spotted.

"We'll increase from one day a week up to three days a week, and if we start to see toxins, and we'll increase sampling further," Dimke said.

All tests in Salem since its 2018 crisis have shown the water to be safe.

Leaders in West Palm Beach hope those results are repeated here.