Alaska village weighs water options after fire burns plant News Staff

BETHEL, Alaska — Residents of an Alaska village met with health officials and government agencies to consider methods to restore running water after a fire destroyed the community’s water plant.

The Yukon-Kuskokwim Health Corporation has provided bottled water and hand sanitizer to residents of Tuluksak since the community’s water plant and laundromat burned Jan. 16.

Alaska State Troopers said the fire burned as residents of the Alaska Native community northeast of Bethel unsuccessfully tried to douse the flames with water hauled from the Tuluksak River.

Health corporation President Dan Winkelman said in a statement that everything possible will be done to help restore Tuluksak’s water service.

“We understand the importance of this resource, and our staff will continue to work hand-in-hand with Tribal, state, and federal representatives to bring about solutions to restore access to it as quickly as possible,” Winkelman said.

The corporation hosted a meeting last week for local, state and federal agencies. The groups discussed connecting a community well to the school, which is equipped to provide running water. Residents could temporarily use the system for laundry and to transfer water to their homes.

John Nichols of the Alaska Native Tribal Health Consortium, who attended the meeting, said the Yukon-Kuskokwim Health Corporation has a portable water treatment plant in Bethel that could be operational in the village by the summer.

But officials must determine if the plant can purify water from the Tuluksak River, a tributary of the Kuskokwim River.

Residents have previously complained to the state Legislature about sediment making Tuluksak River water unsafe to drink.

Nichols said purifying the water would require different processes than those used in other water sources.

“If you were to, say, look at the waters of the Kenai River versus the Copper River versus the Kuskokwim River, you can tell just by looking that the water quality is very, very different,” Nichols said.

If the corporation’s purifier does not work, a portable system from the continental U.S. may be required.

The tribe must verify whether the building was insured before agencies can release funds to subsidize any system. Community officials said the person who has the insurance information was not immediately available after testing positive for COVID-19.

The Associated Press

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