Homes in New Stuyahok were plagued with low or no water pressure from mid-June to mid-July. At the peak of the problem, more than 30 homes were affected. Now the city water system is back online.
Mayor Randall Hastings said the problem was exacerbated because the sensor that could have alerted the city to a problem in the well house sooner is broken.
“The sensor that’s on the water tank and in the water plant hasn’t been working for over a year,” Hastings said. “We’ve been waiting for a part from Alaska Native Tribal Health Consortium that registers and lets us know how much water is in the tank. With the system working, then we would have known there was something going on and we could have probably fixed the problem sooner or prevented us from losing so much pressure that the whole upper village ran out of water.”
That sensor remains broken, but the pump is fixed. Repairs began on July 5. An engineer from the Alaska Rural Utilities Collaborative fixed the well pump. It took the water tower some time to refill. On July 19, the city began shutting off water 12 hours a day, from eight in the evening to eight in the morning.
“We had to shut everybody off because those who had water weren’t conserving it enough to let the tank fill up,” Hastings explained.
On July 25 the city announced that it would no longer be shutting of water because the storage tank was three-quarters full. The storage tank is now entirely full and water pressure restored to all homes.
With the water running again, the city is turning its attention to a perennial problem — customers that aren’t paying for their water. About 110 homes there are on the city’s water system, and Hastings estimates 20 percent of them are not paying for the service.
“The way our system was set up a long time ago, there’s really no way to shut anybody off,” Hastings said. “The very first houses that were built here, the shut off valves are inside the house. People aren’t going to permit you to go in their house to shut them off.”
The city is working to install water main curb valves, an external method for the city to shut off water, on every home. That way, when customers stop paying, the city can stop supplying water.
Another water problem is completely outside the city’s control — the Nushagak River. It is still running too low for a barge to make a delivery. One of the key items New Stuyahok depends on the barge to carry is fuel. Businesses’ and residences’ heating fuel use is already limited, 50 gallons per month for businesses and 30 gallons per month for homes.
“New Stuyahok Limited is really getting dangerously low on stove oil, so hopefully the barge will be here soon,” Hastings said.
With a rainy end of July and more rain in the forecast for August, New Stuyahok Limited anticipates a barge delivery in the next few weeks.