Tuluksak educators plead for help after a week without running water

a lunch room at a school
The lunchroom of the Tuluksak school, where John Mark Hammonds first worked in the Yupiit School District. (Olivia Ebertz/KYUK)

After a week without running water, administrators in Tuluksak say that they are on the verge of closing the village’s school.

Principal Kary DelSignore said that the trouble started last Thursday when a line leading from the water plant broke, leaving the school and all of the teacher housing without running water.

That water plant is a portable one on loan from the Yukon-Kuskokwim Health Corporation, which sent a technician out to take a look.

“He was not able to find the leak,” DelSignore said. “He said that even if they did find the leak, that the equipment is not currently available in Tuluksak to get to it and fix it.”

There’s a temporary workaround, but it requires trucking a 200 gallon plastic container back and forth from the water plant to the school and would afford just a fraction of the water the school and teacher housing would normally use.

“We’re trying our best to conserve water where we can. We’re making choices that we shouldn’t be having to make in the schools,” DelSignore said. “You know, pulling out the honey buckets, doing things like that. Having to choose, you know, ‘Will we feed you today? Will you be able to wash your hands?’ What can we do? Can we provide you with drinking water? Nope, we don’t have any drinking water right now that is safe for you in the school.”

The lack of water is making it difficult to cook food in a clean environment, and DelSignore and Yupiit School District Superintendent Scott Ballard say that it’s putting the health and safety of children and staff at risk.

“Our teachers are going, they’re working on their weekends to help pump water. They’re working in the evening to help pump water,” DelSignore said.

Then, those teachers head home to honey buckets and cold showers.

“Its just become very, very difficult and we are in need from some assistance from the state,” DelSignore said.

But it’s not exactly clear where that help should come from. DelSignore and Ballard said that they have reached out to Bethel’s Sen. Lyman Hoffman and the commissioner of the Alaska Department of Education.

“Whether it’s the National Guard, whether it’s another state, you know, water, health and safety, environmental agency coming in. They have the tools that we don’t have available in this rural community to help us and get this fixed quickly,” DelSignore said.

In the meantime, as each day passes Ballard said that they may not be able to keep the school open.

“Right now, we’re just trying to assess whether those teachers can even make it to next week because they basically stated that they’re exhausted and they haven’t had showers in a week,” said Ballard. “If all of our teachers are so exhausted and so frustrated without even being able to maintain basic personal hygiene, they’re gonna leave and we won’t have a school.”

Tuluksak has struggled to get potable water to people in recent years. A fire destroyed its water plant in 2021. The community had to rely on donations of bottled water or on the nearby Tuluksak and Kuskokwim Rivers until a temporary plant was installed later that year. 

KYUK’s Francisco Martínezcuello helped with this story.

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