Anchorage utility racing to fix sewer line unmoored by quake

An Anchorage sewer line broke loose from the bottom of a city lake after the magnitude 7.1 earthquake last year, and reinstalling it has not been easy.

The city’s wastewater utility is hoping to finish the work before salmon return to the area this month.

Anchorage Water and Wastewater spokeswoman Sandy Baker says, in the days and weeks after the earthquake, the utility did not detect any problems with the 48-inch line at the bottom of Campbell Lake. But someone spotted the line in March popping up through ice covering the lake, Baker said.

“It floated. It floated up,” Baker said. “It still was working, there was no break, no rupture. It continued to flow sewer just fine, and nothing leaked out, anywhere.”

Baker said the utility and its contractor had to wait until the ice melted to begin repairs and a late-April blast of winter did not help. They then tried to drain the lake, which is man-made, by opening gates on a dam about a week ago, but after about two days that effort proved ineffective, Baker said.

Now they’re using what Baker described as several “sump pumps on steroids” and work has stepped up to 15 hours a day. The work could go to 24 hours a day, 7 days a week, as a permit from the Alaska Department of Fish and Game is set to run out May 15, already extended from an earlier deadline.

“Our goal is to not upset the migration of the fish,” Baker said. “We’re doing our best to get this done so we don’t disturb them coming in. You know, they can still travel up and down the creek just fine. Because it is a man-made lake, we’re not disrupting the creek at all.”

The Department of Fish and Game says the work needs to be done in time to refill the lake by the third week of May, and the department might issue another short permit extension if there is sufficient flow to accomplish that. But, according to the Fish and Game biologist overseeing the permit, if the utility is unable to return the lake to an adequate level in time, they might have to stop work until fall.