It ranks as Norway’s smallest municipality, but the island community of Utsira was in the news on Wednesday as a new victim of contaminated drinking water. The roughly 200 people living on Utsira, plus visitors, were told to boil their water after local officials found traces of E-coli bacteria in it.
Wind-swept Utsira, about an hour’s ferry ride from Haugesund on Norway’s West Coast, was once best known for its thriving community of port pilots, and its distinctive lighthouses. Now it’s an attractive destination for visitors and mainlanders who have refurbished historic homes and buildings for use as holiday retreats. They’re all being told to buy water or boil what comes out of the tap.
“I headed straight for the store (there’s only one on the island) and bought water,” Utsira Mayor Marte Eide Klovning told state broadcaster NRK on Wednesday. She was responding to the warning from the municipality’s technical chief, which came after bacteria in the drinking water turned up during a routine test.
“We have notified Mattilsynet (Norway’s food and water safety authority), the municipal health director and sent out text messages to all residents.” technical chief Arvid Helgesen told NRK. Local newspaper Haugesunds Avis reported there were no known leaks in the water system, nor were there any reports of anyone falling ill.
The water scare comes just after contaminated water in Askøy, farther north along the coast, sickened as many as 2,000 residents. A 72-year-old woman and a baby boy also died after suffering severe intestinal infections.
Waterworks all over the country have been jarred into testing their water and inspecting their often old drinking water systems after the crisis in Askøy. “I can understand that folks can be worried when we’re told there’s bacteria in our drinking water,” Mayor Kovning told NRK. “We of course hope this is not a serious outbreak.”