Repairs begin on village's storm-damaged water pipeline

Rachel D'Oro | Associated Press

Supplies and equipment have been delivered to the northwest Alaska village of Kivalina as crews race against the upcoming freeze-up to repair a storm-damaged water supply pipeline that has left a school and teacher housing without clean water for weeks, those involved in the effort said Thursday.

Locals and workers brought up by the Alaska Native Tribal Health Consortium in a multi-entity effort are working to get the job done before freeze-up begins in a few weeks in the community of 400. A final piece of equipment arrived Thursday and workers were gearing up to begin pumping the water from the Wulik River into a 500,000-gallon tank for storing the water until it is filtered and transferred to a 700,000-gallon tank, said John Spriggs, a tribal utility consultant with the health consortium, which is spearheading the effort.

The three-mile pipeline feeds the local water plant, so the damage has left the school and teacher housing without clean water. More than two weeks after the school was scheduled to start, classes are still not being held in the Inupiat Eskimo community, 83 miles north of the Arctic Circle and 625 miles northwest of Anchorage.

School District officials hope to see the 130-student school open by Oct. 1.

Spriggs said workers have focused repairing obvious damage to the pipeline, but leaks could still be discovered once the pumping process begins.

"They'll pressurize that line and if it holds, they'll pump water," he said. "If not, they'll find the leaks."

Both the village and the Northwest Arctic Borough have declared a disaster in the community, and the borough is asking Gov. Sean Parnell to declare a disaster, which would free up state money to deal with the problem. State emergency management spokesman Jeremy Zidek said the governor's cabinet took up the issue Wednesday and is making a recommendation to Parnell, who will make a final decision.

Zidek said he could not discuss what is being recommended. Parnell's spokeswoman, Sharon Leighow, said she did not know what the recommendation is, but said the governor could make a decision Friday.

The borough's disaster declaration immediately opened up $5,000 in emergency funds that have paid for such items as sending 6,000 pounds of safe drinking water to the community.

The tribal health consortium is providing about $10,000 in parts including 3,000 feet of pipe. There's also the cost of paying workers to come up with a workable system quickly before winter sets in, even if a more permanent fix isn't tackled until later, Spriggs said.

Associated Press