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Winter Water Woes

A snowy landscape, distant snowy mountains, low-hanging fog, and a modern school complex in the middle-ground.
The school and surrounding landscape in Gambell, April 2014. Photo: Anna Rose MacArthur, KNOM.

The St. Lawrence Island community of Gambell has been and will be dealing with a broken sewer main for months.

In late September, Gambell’s sewer main was accidentally torn while attempting to fix a leak in the village wastewater system. An abundance of groundwater stymied efforts to repair the sewer main immediately. Instead, local crews set up a bypass sewer system and decided to wait until winter to clear the groundwater, reasoning that the groundwater would be easier to remove when frozen.

But then… neither of the two excavators in the village were operational. A replacement motor was ordered but delayed by the notoriously slow (and weather-dependent) shipping speeds in rural Alaska.

Volunteer reporter Zoe Grueskin reports for KNOM News that final repairs on the village wastewater system may be delayed until May or later.

Meanwhile, the village of Saint Michael is working on a complete overhaul of its water and sewer system. As we go to press, Unalakleet utility crews are scrambling to locate and fix a water main break because the storage leak is bigger than the supply.

Image at top: The school and surrounding landscape in Gambell, one of the villages impacted by recent water/sewer line disruptions. Isolated infrastructure systems in Western Alaska amplify the likelihood of such problems.

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