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#51926 - 08/30/17 07:24 AM Re: Whitney Portal Water Shutdown 8/17 [Re: Harvey Lankford]
saltydog Offline


Registered: 02/03/11
Posts: 1547
Loc: Valley Ford CA!!!!
Not surprised at the different versions of the story. Also not surprised at the drop off in business. I wouldn't call it hysteria so much as just a lack of information. There is speculation all over the various media sites that the store, restaurant and even campsites are shut down, and not word one on the Whitney Portal Store site about it. Inyo NF site says campers should bring water. County Environmental Health dept answers direct questions directly and simply. Direct questions on the WPS board are answered either not at all or with non-sequitur. And the sign in town obviously does not help.

It is a mystery to me why this was not all clarified right from the start: "Running water system is off, but creeks are full and the Store has an alternate supply of good fresh water. Open for business as usual (except for the showers, sorry). Bacon double cheeseburgers and Nimitz-Class pancakes are better than ever".

This is not rocket surgery.


Edited by saltydog (08/30/17 07:25 AM)
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#51927 - 08/30/17 10:06 AM Re: Whitney Portal Water Shutdown 8/17 [Re: saltydog]
AndyC Offline


Registered: 01/22/14
Posts: 9
Loc: Tehachapi, CA
"What we've got here is failure to communicate"

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#51929 - 08/30/17 10:55 AM Re: Whitney Portal Water Shutdown 8/17 [Re: AndyC]
Harvey Lankford Offline


Registered: 11/10/09
Posts: 984
Loc: Richmond, Virginia
Originally Posted By: AndyC
"What we've got here is failure to communicate"

Cool Hand Luke. Love it.

Trying to distill (pardon the pun) what Peter and I have been trying to sort out MIGHT be this, although I am still speculated based on multiple sources:

The concrete structure housing the intake pipe may have been cracked, or not covered, or overflowed by this years large surface runoff, the screen or filter may have been clogged, the original site of the coliform unknown, the solution still being discussed from a wide range of options (I was told five), poor signage, and yes, failure to communicate.

When I go by there in about 2 weeks maybe I can ask to see the offending location and take a picture worth a thousand words.

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#51939 - 08/30/17 09:23 PM Re: Whitney Portal Water Shutdown 8/17 [Re: Harvey Lankford]
SierraNevada Offline


Registered: 09/05/11
Posts: 1098
Loc: NorCal
I spoke with Kathy Barton yesterday from Inyo Environmental Health. Got pretty much the same story about the spring flow decreasing dramatically and popping up at a new spring nearby. She described the old spring as being between the trailhead and the store, further up the hill, but I can't say that I understood her for sure. I couldn't understand where the new spring has sprung up.

The geotechnical engineer in me suspects the spring flow may have shifted due to the record drought followed by a record snow year. That's a big and sudden swing in infiltration that can cause groundwater conditions to change. Water is stored in the joints and cracks of the granite, which can become clogged when flow rates change due to precipitate from minerals in the water, or due to fine grained soil transport, or it can move material and find new pathways to new springs. Its also possible that a screen might be clogged that's blocking flow into the springbox, but I have a hard time with that one, and it could be easily remedied to restore flow. As Bob was saying, earthquakes often change groundwater flow, especially right after an earthquake, but there hasn't been any significant ground motion in the Whitney area recently. I suspect its related to the sudden dramatic change in infiltration rate. As for the source of the E Coli, who knows. The concrete springbox was built in the 1930s and probably leaks, which would let exterior flow in. In any case, they could, and should, do some specialized tests to see if its human or animal.

Apparently Inyo is working to develop the new springs and they hope to have it done this season. I asked about the E coli test results, but Kathy didn't have any numbers on that and didn't know about any more recent testing. She didn't think the contamination was coming from the creek since its lower than the spring, but nothing seemed very definitive.

Here's an interesting study done by the Lahontan Regional Water Quality Control Board testing E Coli from creeks flowing off the Eastern Sierra slopes. It's mainly focused on cattle pollution, but you can learn a lot about E Coli in the area from this report. The testing protocols used were able to distinguish between human and animal sources.


Edited by SierraNevada (08/30/17 09:36 PM)

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#51944 - 08/31/17 07:23 AM Re: Whitney Portal Water Shutdown 8/17 [Re: SierraNevada]
Harvey Lankford Offline


Registered: 11/10/09
Posts: 984
Loc: Richmond, Virginia
Many thanks SN

Substantiates what I was told

The earth, the spring, and animals have have movements.

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#51951 - 08/31/17 12:40 PM Re: Whitney Portal Water Shutdown 8/17 [Re: SierraNevada]
Bob West Offline


Registered: 11/13/09
Posts: 777
Loc: Bishop, CA, USA
Good report; keep up the good work.

Cattle and sheep grazing in the high country was very common back in the early days, but most of it is now confined to the Owens Valley and Mono County. Sheep grazing, especially, at high mountain meadows was very extensive in the 19th and early 20th centuries; even John Muir grazed sheep at Tuolumne Meadows until he realized the impact it was having.

Many Eastern Sierra trails were built to provide easier grazing access for flocks of sheep...then bye, bye Big Horn Sheep.

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#51953 - 08/31/17 01:31 PM Re: Whitney Portal Water Shutdown 8/17 [Re: SierraNevada]
saltydog Offline


Registered: 02/03/11
Posts: 1547
Loc: Valley Ford CA!!!!
Thanks SN:

Good to have the additional info. If anyone would understand this, it would be you, and the uncertainty in the information you were given seems to leave a lot of smoke in the air.

I have no doubt that recent surface hydrology could affect the spring eventually, and it may even be related to the compromising of the spring structure: diminished pressure or the like. But fact remains that the system was shut down for e coli and total coliform, and "diminished flow" is not the same as "dried up". SO it still sounds to me as if the hydrology info is screening the discussion of the health issue, which in turn would explain why NO info at all was provided after the initial announcement by Inyo NF of the shutdown.

I can understand the NF and the County no wanting to hurt business, but it seems the failure to communicate has caused even more damage than necessary.


Edited by saltydog (08/31/17 01:32 PM)
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#51957 - 08/31/17 03:25 PM Re: Whitney Portal Water Shutdown 8/17 [Re: saltydog]
wagga Offline


Registered: 10/07/09
Posts: 2208
Loc: Humbug Reach (Pop. 3)
Originally Posted By: saltydog
SO it still sounds to me as if the hydrology info is screening the discussion of the health issue, which in turn would explain why NO info at all was provided after the initial announcement by Inyo NF of the shutdown.

I can understand the NF and the County no wanting to hurt business, but it seems the failure to communicate has caused even more damage than necessary.

Is this the real PortalGate? I don't think it is a coverup. If asked, I'd say nix on that.
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#51958 - 08/31/17 03:34 PM Re: Whitney Portal Water Shutdown 8/17 [Re: wagga]
+ @ti2d Offline


Registered: 10/22/09
Posts: 804
Loc: Oh Cursed, USA
Originally Posted By: wagga
...Is this the real PortalGate?...


Intriguing...
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#51961 - 08/31/17 04:22 PM Re: Whitney Portal Water Shutdown 8/17 [Re: + @ti2d]
SierraNevada Offline


Registered: 09/05/11
Posts: 1098
Loc: NorCal
AndyC and Paul Newman summed it up, "what we have here is a failure to communicate." That's quite predictable, all things considered. I can understand the County and Inyo not taking the time and effort to investigate and craft a better explanation - with the spring shut down, their a$$es are fully covered. But Doug could benefit by posting some info on his Portal website. Not sure how much this is affecting his business, but the campground is losing money:

Attention: Whitney Portal Campground is open at a reduced rate as there will be no water available until the end of the 2017 season. Recreation.gov will notify reservation-holders impacted by this reduced rate and provide a partial refund. You must bring all the water you will need for your stay including water for drinking, cooking, cleaning, etc. We apologize for the inconvenience.

Are wag bags or shallow catholes contaminating the groundwater? Maybe, but unlikely to be the root cause of this problem. More likely that a person or animal did their business near the spring and it ran off into the springbox. Does this deserve more testing and investigation? Absolutely.

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#51962 - 08/31/17 04:25 PM Re: Whitney Portal Water Shutdown 8/17 [Re: + @ti2d]
Harvey Lankford Offline


Registered: 11/10/09
Posts: 984
Loc: Richmond, Virginia
For whatever reason, this topic has a life of its own.

We assume the positive water sample was taken from a spigot somewhere. Bob, cattle are indeed a source of coliform, but not at Whitney Portal, instead humans, dogs, marmots, deer, bear, squirrels and any warm colon where coliform bacteria like to live.

Just for educational purposes, if a coliform likes 98.6F and a saline -like moisture, how long can it live when introduced into a hypo-osmotic (plain water) and cold ( say 40 F) environment. I wonder if the Health dept is actually culturing live coliform out of the water versus just doing a microscopic count of coliforms, thus indicating their presence dead or alive at some point and therefore of risk.

I do not know the answer and will just shut up. Anyone else interested can pursue.

SN just posted a second before me and I will add that his speculation of an animal doing his business in the box fits with my question about longevity of the bacteria once dumped


Edited by Harvey Lankford (08/31/17 04:27 PM)

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#51964 - 08/31/17 06:06 PM Re: Whitney Portal Water Shutdown 8/17 [Re: SierraNevada]
saltydog Offline


Registered: 02/03/11
Posts: 1547
Loc: Valley Ford CA!!!!
I thought the county did provide a complete explanation of the shutdown: they found unacceptable levels of e. coli and total coliform. They believe because of mechanical damage and surface contamination of the developed spring, but they can't fix it because they can't trace it. The rest of it, diminished flow, moving springs maybe developing a new one may be perfectly accurate, but its not the reason the system was shut down. Isn't less water better than no water? So no diminished flow isn't the reason. Anything other than the contamination is just smoke.



Edited by saltydog (08/31/17 06:47 PM)
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#51965 - 08/31/17 06:32 PM Re: Whitney Portal Water Shutdown 8/17 [Re: Harvey Lankford]
SierraNevada Offline


Registered: 09/05/11
Posts: 1098
Loc: NorCal
Harvey, we seem to be in agreement and posted at the same time. I worked in the water quality field for one year right out of undergrad, so I know just enough to be dangerous. I know enough to know we don't know what's really going on with this situation. The simplest explanations are usually the most accurate.

The tests they do these days for Fecal Indicator Bacteria (FIB) have advanced to where they can detect the source species without DNA testing. The allowable Colony Forming Units (CFU) standards are evolving and generally getting more strict. Oddly, the old standards are based on levels acceptable for a swimming pool and then applied to drinking water, and these standards are still common.

The samples need to be refrigerated and tested quickly. Quality control issues almost always lower the E Coli counts. Yes, the samples are cultured and then counted under a microscope. Testing details are in the link I sent earlier Lahontan Microbial Study of Eastern Sierra Streams

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#51966 - 08/31/17 06:46 PM Re: Whitney Portal Water Shutdown 8/17 [Re: saltydog]
SierraNevada Offline


Registered: 09/05/11
Posts: 1098
Loc: NorCal
Originally Posted By: saltydog
The county did provide a complete explanation of the shutdown: they found unacceptable levels of e. coli and total coliform. They believe because of mechanical damage and surface contamination of the developed spring, but they can't fix it because they can't trace it. The rest of it, diminished flow, moving springs maybe developing a new one may be perfectly accurate, but its not the reason the system was shut down. Isn't less water better than no water? So no diminished flow isn't the reason. Anything other than the contamination is just smoke.

Salty, you are correct to isolate the two issues:

1) Contamination: We don't know for sure if it's "surface contamination" or if the groundwater is contaminated. Actually, they could trace it, and they should trace it, to identify where its coming from. Most likely its surface contamination, but this should be determined. If its the groundwater and related to human waste practices, it will likely show up at the new spring eventually.

2) Diminished flow: Salty is correct in pointing out this does not cause contamination, but it could make it more likely to accumulate or concentrate. In any case, it affects the solution - does it make more sense to rebuild a spring that's decreasing or develop a new one that's increasing? Do you leave the old one there in case the flow comes back?

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#52016 - 09/04/17 03:34 AM Re: Whitney Portal Water Shutdown 8/17 [Re: Maverick]
Marcus Offline


Registered: 07/07/17
Posts: 46
Loc: California
Is it just me, or does the whole 'water contaminated with e-coli' thing seem a bit of a non-issue?

As in, it should not stop someone from visiting/hiking Whitney, since they should be filtering their water anyway - and a combination of something like the Sawyer Mini and Steripen easily counters the e-coli threat.

Does this also mean that the kitchen at Whitney Portal was using untreated stream water? Because if they were on mains supply, this should not effect them.

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#52017 - 09/04/17 09:00 AM Re: Whitney Portal Water Shutdown 8/17 [Re: dbd]
Togar11 Offline


Registered: 08/03/17
Posts: 1
Loc: California
I lived in mammoth lakes in 1983 and 1984 and we had swarms of quakes for days. All through the night and day. Some were pretty big and scary.

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#52020 - 09/04/17 10:44 AM Re: Whitney Portal Water Shutdown 8/17 [Re: Marcus]
Steve C Offline


Registered: 09/22/09
Posts: 7225
Loc: Fresno, CA
Originally Posted By: Marcus
Does this also mean that the kitchen at Whitney Portal was using untreated stream water? Because if they were on mains supply, this should not effect them.


They're hauling in bottled water.

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#52025 - 09/04/17 06:21 PM Re: Whitney Portal Water Shutdown 8/17 [Re: Marcus]
SierraNevada Offline


Registered: 09/05/11
Posts: 1098
Loc: NorCal
Originally Posted By: Marcus
Is it just me, or does the whole 'water contaminated with e-coli' thing seem a bit of a non-issue?

As in, it should not stop someone from visiting/hiking Whitney, since they should be filtering their water anyway - and a combination of something like the Sawyer Mini and Steripen easily counters the e-coli threat.

Does this also mean that the kitchen at Whitney Portal was using untreated stream water? Because if they were on mains supply, this should not effect them.

Yes, this is a non-issue for the typical hiker who crashes at the Portal and leaves in the middle of the night or morning. Campers need to bring lots of water or filter. The store kitchen is on imported water now. It should be fixed with a new spring source later this season.

The bigger issue would be if the groundwater is getting contaminated from lack of compliance with wag bags. Based on the location of the spring, and nature of bacterial contamination, that seems unlikely, but not inconceivable.

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#52066 - 09/06/17 08:17 AM Re: Whitney Portal Water Shutdown 8/17 [Re: SierraNevada]
SierraNevada Offline


Registered: 09/05/11
Posts: 1098
Loc: NorCal
Stumbled onto an interesting database for Inyo drinking water systems.

Here's the Whitney Portal violation details. The first E Coli violation was found on Aug 1 and second test was Aug 15. No other tests reported since then. Click on the links on the left for more info.

Of particular interest, I see some Nitrate started to show up in 2008 (soon after the toilets were removed). That's the other contaminate of interest to watch regarding fecal waste contamination. The levels are low but its a possible indication of human or animal waste getting into the groundwater. In some ways, Nitrate is a better warning sign as it doesn't degrade as quickly as bacteria. Its not harmful in low doses. Taken together, this really calls for more investigation. If the groundwater is getting contaminated, it will show up in the new spring eventually.

BTW, drinking water standards for wells (and presumably springs as well - pun intended) does not allow any E Coli in a sample. In contrast, surface water samples from the creeks allows quite a bit of E Coli, acceptable for body contact. Surface water used for drinking would normally be chlorinated.

We also need to see the results of creek sampling (especially after the toilets were removed). Because the standards are much more relaxed for surface water, E Coli could be showing up in significant amounts and they wouldn't be obligated to do anything about it.

https://sdwis.waterboards.ca.gov/PDWW/JS...wsys_st_code=CA

https://sdwis.waterboards.ca.gov/PDWW/JS...=&end_date=

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#52077 - 09/06/17 09:15 PM Re: Whitney Portal Water Shutdown 8/17 [Re: SierraNevada]
SierraNevada Offline


Registered: 09/05/11
Posts: 1098
Loc: NorCal
Update: I spoke with Kathy Barton at Inyo Environmental Health again today to get the latest Nitrate levels. The last data reported by the state on that database link above was 2012. Kathy actually takes the samples and has the latest data, which is public information but not yet entered into the state database. Based on the numbers she reported, Nitrates haven't increased significantly since 2008. All the reported numbers are really low, within the noise of the test method. So once again, it's unlikely that the groundwater in this area is getting contaminated. In addition, she reported they found animal "activity" in the old spring box. So we have a reasonable explanation. Furthermore, the first test results from the new spring came back clean for E Coli. But she didn't think the new spring would come online this season after all, probably design/construction/approval delays.

I'm impressed with Kathy as a diligent and very competent public official perfectly suited for her job. She's got her eye on the ball and I'm confident she'll keep an eye on this going forward, at least for the spring water. The surface water up the trail is not under her jurisdiction. That sampling is done by Inyo NF and governed by the state - Lahontan Regional Water Quality Control Board.

I'll try to follow up with the surface water monitoring results when I get a chance. The allowable E Coli levels are much higher for surface water. I requested the data several years ago in an email to the previous District Ranger, Margaret Woods, but never heard back. A phone call will probably work better than email, I just need to find the time during business hours and catch the right person at their desk. Not that easy.

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