Several pipes at the Nenana water treatment facility froze and burst early Monday, forcing officials to scramble to make repairs so residents would not go without potable water.
Joshua Verhagen, mayor of the Interior Alaska city, said officials initially believed the repairs could take days or weeks because parts for their 42-year-old plant are hard to find, but by Monday evening things were functioning nearly as normal again.
A plow driver noticed a motorized garage door to the plant was open around 5:50 a.m. and tried to close it, Verhagen said, but it was malfunctioning and kept reopening. It was about 36 below zero outside, Verhagen said.
“There were parts of valves and pipes bursting all over the place inside the plant,” he said. “When our guys walked in, they saw chunks of the valves and other parts just kind of flying around the room and they went and shut everything off.”
Verhagen said the city rushed to find a solution because if the water circulation was off, it could cause lines to freeze and burst throughout town. They isolated a few sections of the plant and got water circulating through pipes in town to prevent the damage, he said.
Soon, the city had almost more volunteers than it could manage, Verhagen said. People helped fabricate and weld parts, and a Fairbanks plumber found replacement valves.
The city issued a boil-water notice Monday night. Verhagen said it’s standard procedure that the water needs to be tested anytime the treatment plant is shut off, but he doesn’t believe there will be any problems with water quality. Bottled water is available to residents at the washeteria and fire station in the meantime.
Verhagen said plans for a new water plant have been in the works for years. The current system was intended to last only about 20 years, he said.
The Alaska Native Tribal Health Consortium had plans to begin an upgrade to the plant this year, and Verhagen said he is hoping the project can be expedited.
Nenana, on the Parks Highway southwest of Fairbanks, is the home of the famed springtime Nenana Ice Classic guessing game, in which people buy tickets and try to predict the exact minute the ice on the Tanana River will break up.