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New Stuyahok on boil water notice since December

Mario Cruz

The Alaska Department of Environmental Conservation issued a boil water notice for New Stuyahok more than a month ago. Since then, efforts to lift the notice have been hampered by breaks in the city's water lines. 

New Stuyahok has been on boil water notice for more than a month because a freeze-up resulted in a drop in water pressure. Since then, several breaks in water service lines have held up efforts to lift the notice.

“This past December we had a freeze-up at our water plant, and it took a while to get that unfrozen. After that they apparently had – some of these homes had started having a water break,” said Wassillie Gust Jr., New Stuyahok's water and sewer operator. 

The city must collect three samples for testing at a certified lab. But since December, older water lines in the village have been breaking. The city needed to fix those breaks before collecting the necessary samples.

“You’re supposed to take a water sample as soon as you get that water leak taken care of," Gust explained. "By the time we were about to do a sample to get off the water notice, we’d have another water break.”

According to Gust, the breaks can also drain the city’s water tank and force them to temporarily shut off the water.  

“Some of these water breaks tend to occur over night and that we do not know about, and it loses some of our water in our tank, so sometimes we have to shut of the water," he said. "Only when we have these water leaks the water will drop down, then we’d have to shut down and then we’d have to shut off the water, shut off the line system to get it filled back up.”

The Alaska Division of Environmental Health issues boil water notices for a variety of reasons. In New Stuyahok’s case it serves as a precautionary measure. State guidelines recommend that residents living in communities under notice boil drinking and cooking water for two minutes before use.

The city is taking steps to lift the notice. Gust and his colleague are monitoring the water plant to prevent freezing and have repaired water lines in several households. They are also working to collect samples for testing. If all goes well, Gust expects the boil water notice to be lifted in the next few weeks.

Contact the author at isabelle@kdlg.org or 907-842-2200.

Update: New Stuyahok is still on boil water notice as of Feb. 14, 2019, according to the environmental program manager with the DEC’s Drinking Water Program. Water systems are required to maintain a consistent water pressure above 20psi, and a section of the village has had consistently lower pressure since the Dec. freeze-up.

Correction: This article has been corrected to reflect that the boil water notice was first issued because the city’s water pressure fell below 20psi due to freeze-ups. In addition, the city is only required to submit three water samples for testing. KDLG was originally told that a break in New Stuyahok’s main water line was the reason that the boil water notice was issued, and that five samples were required.

Izzy Ross is the news director at KDLG, the NPR member station in Dillingham. She reports, edits, and hosts stories from around the Bristol Bay region, and collaborates with other radio stations across the state.