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Unalakleet Mayor says work on water system to begin this summer

Aerial view of Unalakleet during winter, with open water along the coast.

Help is on the way for Unalakleet when it comes to having access to drinking water restored.

The House Community and Regional Affairs Committee took testimony on Tuesday regarding the Village Safe Water program. The program assists rural communities in developing sustainable water delivery and sanitation facilities.

According to Carrie Bohan, the Facilities Services Program Manager at the Alaska Department of Environmental Conservation, Unalakleet will see work to improve conditions on its water system in the near future.

“We are developing a new water source in Unalakleet and replacing the entire drinking water distribution system,” Bowhan said. “It’s one of the oldest distribution systems and it’s also one of the largest communities that we serve.”

Unalakleet has been dealing with freeze ups of their water tank for years. In late 2021, freezing rain led to a frozen pool of standing water that shifted the community’s pump house, dropping the flow of water into the water tank.

Unalakleet is currently under a boil-water notice, which is a predicament the city has faced since late last year.

Mayor Abel Razzo said the city’s aging water system has developed leaks – and Typhoon Merbok didn’t help the situation.

“We have been under boil water notice since November, it was kind of the result of some catastrophic leaks that we had in the system as well as the storm,” Razzo said. “We have had drinking water supplied to us through outside entities, who donated bottled water to the Native Village of Unalakleet and to the city, which we have worked on distributing to all our neighbors here in town.”

According to the Native Village of Unalakleet, the Bureau of Indian Affairs has been donating the bottled water during the boil notice.

Razzo adds that the boil notice should expire in about a month – and building a new water source and piping will put an end to the yearly cycle of the distribution system failing.

This summer, Razzo said Norton Sound Health Corporation will assist the city with treating the water, once the boil notice ends.

“We’ve been partnering with the Village Safe Water program now for, I think, over a year,” Razo said. “From what I understand, and the meetings that we’ve had so far, we’ll be breaking ground on connecting the new water source to town this summer. The expected completion date of that project of connecting the new wells, which have already been dug, and upgrading our current water system to process the water coming in, should be the end of next summer.”

Bohan explained some of the other projects the Village Safe Water project is focusing on, saying there will be, “New water treatment plants and washeterias in both Wales and Nunapitchuk, lift station replacement in St Paul, (and) we’re also looking at a new water intake transmission line in Shaktoolik, as well as constructing a water storage tank in St. George.”

In Western Alaska, according to DEC, just more than half of the residents of Gambell and Wales are served by clean water systems, while less than 50 percent of those in Diomede, Shishmaref, Stebbins, Teller and Wales have access to a safe water delivery system.

Image at top: An aerial view along the coast at Unalakleet. Photo: Zachariah Hughes, Alaska Public Media.

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