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Unalakleet perseveres through water shortage, looks ahead to future system

St. Michael's water tank is showing its age in February of 2020. Photo from JoJo Phillips, KNOM (2020).

Unalakleet’s supply of water was running on empty following a nasty freeze-up at the end of December. As the community pulled together to conserve water, there is hope that recent funding from the federal government will help Unalakleet mitigate future water issues.

“We did have some effects from the Dec. 26 storm that interrupted our water supply out at our source, Powers Creek,” City Manager of Unalakleet Moe Zamarron said.

Freezing rain led to a frozen pool of standing water that shifted the community’s pump house before the New Year, Zamarron said. This dropped the flow of water into the water tank and levels were down to two feet earlier the first week of January.

The city’s water tank is full at roughly 28 feet of water, according to Zamarron. It didn’t reach empty this time, but it was down to about 7% of its total capacity.

“It took a lot of effort from the local community to conserve,” explained Zamarron. “And through their efforts, we were able to reserve enough of our storage tank water to make it through this. And it was a community effort for everybody to pull together and see to it that we could turn this corner and begin the increased flow again and start building our reserves back up.”

As of yesterday, the community has started to put more water back into the storage tank, Zamarron said. But the repairs and resolution to the current water issues are ongoing.

Unalakleet has struggled with its water system in the past, with almost annually recurring shortages, contamination issues or freezing pipes at the water tank.

Fortunately, these types of issues with Unalakleet’s water system can be mitigated in the future.

The Department of Housing and Urban Development, or HUD, recently awarded the Native Village of Unalakleet over $650,000 to develop a water haul system. The funds came from a 2021 round of Indian Community Block Grants through the American Rescue Plan.

The general manager of the Native Village of Unalakleet, Tracy Cooper, could not be reached for comment before the airing of this story. But according to HUD, this newer system will provide the community more access to treated, potable water, without having to rely solely on the water tank and Powers Creek.

In the meantime, as usually happens in times of strife, the residents of Unalakleet have come together to conserve water, share their subsistence foods and support each other to avoid a larger disaster.

The Unalakleet School announced via social media that they are on distance delivery today due to the “current city water situation.”

Image at top: An example of a water storage tank in Western Alaska. This is St. Michael’s water tank in February of 2020. Photo from JoJo Phillips, KNOM (2020).

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