UPDATE: The Haines Borough and Alaska Department of Environmental Conservation are telling residents in certain areas of town to boil their water before drinking it. The boil water notice went out Monday evening to residences in these areas: Small Tracts, FAA, Tower Road, and Highland Estates.
Over the weekend, the borough’s main water supply was blocked, and storage tanks drained so low that some neighborhoods were left with brown water or dry taps.
Borough officials say the boil notice is a direct result of the transmission issues. The water pressure that minimizes the risk of impurities was lacking, and so the borough is required by DEC to issue a boil notice.
A release from the borough says maintenance is being done to restore water flow and correct the problem. Residents in the Small Tracts, FAA, Tower Road and Highland Estates areas should use an alternate water source or boil their tap water.
The boil notice will remain in effect until water pressure is restored and the water is tested for bacteria.
The Haines Borough is working to replenish its water supply after storage tanks drained so low Sunday that some neighborhoods were left with dry taps. The water shortage sprung from a problem with the transmission line from the borough’s main water source, Lily Lake.
On Sunday afternoon, Fort Seward resident Merrill Lowden drove five miles to the Mud Bay spring to get eight gallons of drinking water. She said she usually gets her water from the tap.
“I’m lazy, I don’t like to haul water if I don’t have to,” Lowden said.
She first heard about the water problems when she went to the Pilotlight Restaurant Sunday morning. Restaurant owner Eric Forster says he was preparing for the brunch rush when he noticed something different about the tap water.
“It came out incredibly brown, super dark, almost looked like coffee,” Forster said.
“It got down low in the tanks where the sediment is at, and so while there’s nothing really wrong with it, it just doesn’t taste good and it’s not pleasant to drink,” said Borough Public Facilities Director Brad Ryan.
Public works staff were at Lily Lake Sunday, trying to figure out what was wrong with the pipe that supplies water from the lake to the treatment plant. Efforts that afternoon to clear the line of an apparent air lock weren’t successful, and the borough put water restrictions in place.
“We had a big step forward [Sunday] night at about 8:30,” Ryan said. “We think we sucked some of the air out of the line and prevented some of the air lock. So it’s flowing pretty good right now, but not as good as we’d like.”
On Monday, Ryan said they were letting the water flow to the treatment plant to try to replenish reserves. The Lily Lake supply is being supplemented by Crystal Cathedrals well water, also known as well field, which is a back-up source for the borough.
“And right now we’re making water, with well field we’re pumping about 400,000 gallons a day which is about 50,000 gallons more than we think we’ll use in a day especially if we can keep this water restriction on,” Ryan said. “So we’re trying to catch up, and if we do, tomorrow we’ll hopefully make some more improvements on the [Lily Lake] water line.”
Ryan says another reason the water stores drained so low is because the Tower Road tank is out of commission. The borough is waiting on a state permit for a tank roof replacement. Normally, that container provides a buffer for the municipal system to draw on.
Ryan says the borough has also been trying to avoid funneling Crystal Cathedrals well water into town, because the lower water quality can impact businesses. Last month, the brewery expressed concern when the borough used well water, saying it affects their product.
“So we’ve really been playing this game to try to keep people in better water so they can stay in business and be happier at their houses, and draw this tank down lower. But this hiccup is now a greater impact because we’re running our tanks lower,” Ryan said. “Now we’ve turned well field back on and we’re gonna have to live with it.”
Using Lily Lake and the Crystal Cathedrals well, Ryan hopes to get the water supply back up to the safe zone. A burn ban was put in effect this weekend partly because of the dwindling water stores.
Ryan said Monday afternoon that some residents on Highland Drive, Young Road and Bjornstad Street were still without water. He said borough staff were working to get service to those areas as soon as possible.
Forster at the Pilotlight said they’ve been using bottled water for everything since Sunday.
“So we had to go and use bottled water for sanitation and bleach buckets and washing hands,” he said. “It was bad…Hopefully it gets fixed quick ‘cause buying all this water is expensive when we already pay for water.”
A water use restriction was still in place Monday afternoon for municipal water customers. That means people should refrain from things like watering their lawns, washing vehicles or other non-essential uses.