Unalakleet remains on boil water notice as search for leak continues

The slough near Unalakleet that’s being used as a back-up source of water for the isolated loop. (Photo: Zachariah Hughes, Alaska Public Media.)

Unalakleet is still on boil water notice as utility workers continue to search for the location of a pipe break that caused the water tank to severely deplete.

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According to City Manager Davida Hanson, workers have shut off water to the isolated FAA loop, and are setting up pipe to pump water in from the slough near the community.

“We’re able to give them water and make sure that line doesn’t freeze,” Hanson said. “Just feeding it into the FAA loop will keep the rest of our loops from being contaminated with the slough water.”

Homes on that isolated loop can flush toilets and shower, but shouldn’t drink or cook with the slough water.

With the FAA loop cut off, Hanson says the tank is beginning to refill at about 5 gallons per minute. That’s barely one percent as fast as water drained over the past week.

Workers and volunteers used a sound-wave detector flown in from Fairbanks to locate the approximate location of the break and then started digging. But Hanson says old equipment and the task of setting up the slough pump have meant it’s been slow going.

According to Hanson, community members have been active in helping out with the situation.

“The homes on the upper Hillside that have wells are helping out the community and providing people with well water so they have drinking water,” Hanson said. “There’s people going up the river and getting fresh water from up the river. So everyone’s doing what they can to conserve, and we really appreciate that.”

As Unalakleet residents enter their second week of water issues, Gambell continues to face its own infrastructure problems. A sewer main is still down after months, and workers have been on the job around the clock to maintain a bypass pump.

Warmer weather is a factor in Gambell’s long wait: Mayor Susan Apasingok says workers from the Village Safe Water program are waiting until the ground freezes to come lend a hand. That may not happen until mid-February, if ever.

Apasingok says she’s requested that the State designate the situation an emergency, but that hasn’t been approved yet. And for now, the community is short on funding and equipment to put in place a permanent fix.

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